WOODBURY Woodbury High School students are sending a sweet taste of home to two recent graduates who won't be with their families for the holidays.
Chocolate chip and sugar cookies baked by the school's Interact Club are on the way to Peter Lopez and Craig Marks Jr., both 19 and serving abroad with the Air Force.
Both are Class of 2012 members. Lopez is stationed in England, Marks in Turkey. Both enlisted not long after graduation.
"It's important that they know we appreciate the sacrifice they're making for our country," says club adviser and English teacher Maria Lario, a 13-year Woodbury High employee.
"Craig was a member of this club and worked on this project," adds Lario, 57, of Audubon.
I catch up with Lario, who was a newspaper colleague of mine in the 1990s, amid the amiable chaos of a food-preparation lab at the school.
Holiday hits jingle from a CD player as a dozen students mix, roll, and decorate, while others break eggs, shake little dispensers of jimmies, and slide trays in and out of the ovens.
Lario, herself an accomplished baker, keeps things moving; by afternoon's end, the group will have made and packed 27 dozen cookies.
"Every year, we try to send cookies to a service person someone in the school knows," she says. "One year, we sent them to the father of a student; another year it was the brother of a student.
"In the last couple of years, we didn't know a serviceman, so the cookies were picked up by USO and distributed to soldiers at Philadelphia International Airport."
Many of the students are especially jazzed because they know Lopez and Marks.
"I was pretty good friends with both of them, especially Peter," says Tijesunimi Oni, 17, a senior. "We're letting them know someone's thinking about them."
Oni also is president of Interact, which is supported by the Rotary Woodbury Lunch Club. "It's all about helping the community," Rotary past president Jack Magee tells me by phone.
The 25 Interact students also collect stuffed bears for a West Chester University program, and present a "prom" at a Woodbury nursing home every year, he adds.
Back in the kitchen, the pace is high-energy, the cookie aroma enticing. Make that intoxicating: My resolve not to nibble is crumbling.
"It's nice to be sending them to people we know," says Brock Juliano, 17, a senior.
"I have an uncle who just got back from Afghanistan," says Tori Lugiano, 16. "They're over there fighting for us."
Like Lugiano, Kayla MacDonald, 15; Alicia Vennell, 16; and several other students say family members are veterans or on active duty.
"It's great that people still remember and still care" about the two young airmen, says Lopez's father, Luis Rios.
"We have a really small community here. Everybody knows everyone," says Rios, 39, a state corrections officer.
"This will be his first time away for Christmas, and right now, I'm saying it's going to be OK. But it will be tough."
Marks' father, Craig Sr., says his son's absence will be felt - on both sides of the Atlantic.
"We tell him to keep his head up," says the elder Marks, a truck driver who's 42. "He'll be home soon.
"It's a lot easier for him, knowing that people in his hometown are thinking about him."