One Lewes woman has taken it upon herself to send 50,000 cookies to soldiers overseas every Christmas in a project called “Operation Cookie Drop-Off.”

The idea began to take shape in the mid-1990s, when Judy Mangini struck up a friendship with a soldier on E-bay. She was selling a set of sheets, and the woman who bought them was deployed at the time.

“I started sending her care packages,” Mangini said. “Sometimes I sent her baked goods, usually brownies.”

In 2004, Mangini held a holiday cookie exchange at her home, “just to get family and friends over to visit.” She ended up with dozens of leftover cookies and no idea what to do with them. Mangini thought of her E-bay friend, but that woman had returned to the U.S. and become a civilian again.

“I thought, if I had planned it, I could’ve sent all those cookies to our troops,” she said.

The next year Mangini did just that. She told her cookie exchange guests to bake as many cookies as they wanted so that they could send the leftovers to the troops, and contacted the National Guard for addresses. For the next few years, Operation Cookie Drop-Off would send over 100 dozen cookies overseas each Christmas. Then, in 2008, a local radio station interviewed Mangini about the project.

“The host asked how the public could get involved, and I thought, ‘I can’t have all those people at my house,’” she said. She reached out to American Legion Post 28 in Millsboro, and they offered her a space for cookie drop-offs.

“That first year opening it up to the community, we collected 300 dozen cookies,” Mangini said. “This year we collected 4,200 dozen.”

That’s 52,400 cookies, 26 dozen of which Mangini baked herself.

“I’m a parent and a grandparent and I can’t imagine being away from my family, especially at Christmas and especially when the kids are young. You can’t get that back,” Mangini said. “The least we can do is send them a little taste of home during the holidays to let them know we haven’t forgotten them.”

Operation Cookie Drop-Off also collects donations for shipping. This year, the Ocean City Elks Club donated $1,000, covering a big chunk of the $2,600 in shipping costs the project incurred.

“We ask people to put about a dozen cookies in a gallon freezer bag,” Mangini said. “If you put too many in a bag they’ll crumble. We pack them in boxes with shipping peanuts, which protect much better than any other packaging material.”

Over the years, other community organizations and businesses have gotten involved. Home Depot in Salisbury has donated boxes for three years now. Southern Delaware Signs in Lewes donates labels, and Tail Bangers in Millsboro donates dog treats for four-legged heroes.

“I’m honored and blessed to live in such a generous community,” Mangini said. “The guys and gals I’m sending to, they’re sleeping on dirt, breathing dirt, eating dirt. They’re risking life and limb and could step on an IED at any time. We’re even shipping to guys in the jungles of South America that we don’t ever hear about.”

A few years ago, Mangini was at a Concert for a Random Soldier, an event put on by the Chad Clifton Foundation, when someone approached her and shook her hand.

“He said, ‘I just want to thank you for sending cookies to my unit a couple years ago,’” she recalled. “I was floored. I couldn’t believe he remembered my name.”

To find out more about or to donate to Operation Cookie Drop-Off, visit operationcookiedropoff.com.