A little over a year ago, Chapel Guarnieri of Pepperell was attending a Memorial Day parade with her mom Lorrie Guarnieri. As the teenager observed the stoic faces of the veterans, all of various ages, all with their own stories of battles -- many long since fought, she felt moved to do them a kindness.
"She was talking about how really proud they still looked even though some of them were older and served a long time ago. She was just kind of looking at them and said someone should do something nice for them since they did something so great for us," said Lorrie.
Lorrie, who wanted her daughter to come up with an idea on her own, asked Chapel what she thought she should do.
Chapel knew it had to be something manageable, something that she would be able to afford and organize on her own.
And so began Operation: Cookie Drop.
"It doesn't take a lot of money or time, it's just a way to say thank you," said Chapel.
Chapel, who is now 17 and a senior at North Middlesex Regional High School, enlisted a group of her friends Maddy Prevost, Mike Skelly and Skylar Whitney, to help distribute cookies to members of the military and their families. But she also accrues volunteers to assist through a Facebook group she created, titled "We stand behind the troops who stand up for us."
"We write on the wall and somebody always volunteers to make cookies," she said.
Then, the group of teens picks up the cookies, wraps them in patriotic colors
"We put together a really nice package and go to people's houses," she said.
And it's not just the troops but the people who love and support them on the home front, like, "moms who have sons in the military, just every type of military connection," said Chapel.
The group drops off one to two packages per month. Since it's first drop off in September 2011, Lorri estimates that the group has dropped off between 24 and 30 batches of cookies.
Prevost said when her best friend Chapel enlisted her help in the project, she was immediately on board; since then, she said, it has been a deeply rewarding experience, especially the look on the faces of the military members who are surprised with cookies.
"They're just so humble and very appreciative and it's a very touching moment because they've sacrificed so much and it's the least we can do," she said.
Sue Skelly, Mike Skelly's mother, said she felt the experience was "eye-opening" for her son.
"It kind of brought it home for him a little bit, that it's not just happening (in other parts of the world), but there are people in his own town (serving in the military)," she said. "I think a lot of times for people who aren't directly involved in the military, it's not something they can necessarily see. But (Mike) would come home telling me stories of these incredible, real people he met."
Now that Whitney and Skelly are off to college, Chapel is hoping more teenagers will join her mission to support veterans and troops with Operation: Cookie Drop.
And that's not all: Through her Facebook group, Chapel also helps to organize everything from creating care packages for soldiers overseas to singing Christmas carols at the homes of military families -- anything she can do to help.
After high school, Chapel plans to graduate college and join the Air Force as a fighter pilot. She said her upbringing made her appreciate the efforts of the military.
"Both my parents have always been supportive (of the military)," she said. "I was taught to always appreciate people when they need to be appreciated. Then when I got older and could actually understand the sacrifices they made, you learn to appreciate it on your own."
Lorrie is full of pride for all her daughter has accomplished.
"I think in general, teenagers tend to be concerned with themselves more than someone else. It's just kind of an all-about-me age. So with any teenager, it just makes you proud and happy when they come outside themselves and want to help someone else," she said.
As for her daughter's military aspirations, Lorrie said, "It's a scary thing but it fills me with a lot of pride. She loves her country and would give her life for it. We've always talked to (our kids) about military support, but a family can talk to a child until they're blue in the face. It's up to them whether they take it or not."
Anyone interested in volunteering in her endeavors or nominating a local military member of family for a cookie drop can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.