HACKETTSTOWN — For more than a decade, Cookies for the Troops has provided not only sweet treats, but also toiletries, games, and Christmas decor to U.S. soldiers spending the holiday season overseas, away from their families.

The nonprofit's driving force had always been its founder, Santina Flynn, who launched the endeavor in response to her Marine son Justin telling her that his fellow troops were not receiving care packages during what can be a lonely time of year.

"Santina was kind of like, 'Not on my watch. I'm not going to let that happen.' And so the first Thanksgiving after, the Saturday (of that weekend), she gathered family and friends for a small bake, and the first bake was about 1,000 cookies," Jaclyne Franciscone, a Cookies for the Troops board member, said. "Santina's goal was to continue to make it as big as possible so that the troops were having a piece of home with them, to remind them that there are people back here who are so thankful for their services."

Santina died in August following a five-year battle against breast cancer. In her honor, Cookies for the Troops has continued — and, over this past Thanksgiving weekend, set a group record for cookies baked with 3,694, according to Franciscone and another board member, Alicia Starrett, who are both close friends with Santina's daughter.

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Some stats typically associated with this type of output: 50 pounds of flour, 18 dozen eggs, and 45 pounds of butter, all to make more than 15 varieties of cookies.

Each baking weekend now brings out about 25 participants who donate their time to create confections. This year, they were supplemented by a candy donation from the M&M's plant, also in Hackettstown.

Cookies for the Troops hopes to break the 4,000-cookie mark in 2020, and to help reach that goal, their members have scheduled another baking event for Memorial Day weekend in addition to Thanksgiving.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email patrick.lavery@townsquaremedia.com.

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