Five years ago, Cristina Ludwig was 11 years old and she started a community service project called Cristina's Christmas Cards, Cookies and Cocoa.

Her 98-year-old great-grandmother was in a nursing home in Massachusetts, and when Cristina visited with her family, they were always so struck by how lonely some of the residents seemed to be.

“I remembered this at Christmas, and decided to do something to help them feel remembered,” said Cristina, today 16 and a junior at Lauralton Hall. “That’s when I came up with my Christmas card idea.” With the support of her family, this special project has grown each year.

The mission of Cristina’s Christmas Cards, Cookies and Cocoa is to nurture the human spirit by bringing friends together in the spirit of spreading love and hope to those who are lonely during the holiday season.

Early in December, she invites all her friends and classmates over for a holiday card writing and decorating party. While eating homemade cookies and sipping hot cocoa, they compose heartfelt messages for the cards and adorn the envelopes with ribbons, stickers and glitter.

She brings the cards to the caretakers of nursing homes and eucharistic ministers at church to deliver to the residents.

“I actually like the idea of the cards being delivered anonymously, keeping the ‘magic of Christmas’ theme alive,” she said.

The first year, they delivered the cards to the residents of her great-grandmother’s nursing home.

“The second year, we doubled our production, and were able to deliver cards to not only her nursing home in Massachusetts, but to another here in Milford,” Cristina said. “This past December, we had a goal of delivering to nursing homes, as well as homebound members of my church parish.”

This year brought the grand total to over 1,000 Christmas cards delivered.

Cristina attended Mathewson and Meadowside elementary schools, followed by Harborside Middle School, and she is a parishioner at St. Mary Church in Milford.

At Lauralton, she is president of her class. She is also involved in the Crusaders Club, a school spirit club, Highlights, the school newspaper, and the golf team.

And that’s not all. This local teen also holds a job, working at Trader Joe's in Orange, and she babysits.

“Through working at Trader Joe's, I have learned to appreciate more what workers at stores do. Sometimes people overlook someone retrieving shopping carts in the parking lot or bagging groceries, but they should be appreciated. From babysitting, I've learned so much about patience, handling challenges, and compromising with kids.”

Cristina, daughter of Rob and Anne Marie Ludwig, said she hopes to study some type of business in college, possibly minoring in Spanish.

She also hopes to continue her holiday project for as long as possible.

“I think it would be a really fun and meaningful event to reunite with friends from all different colleges over the winter break,” she said.

“Although a simple project, I have dreams of expanding even further or incorporating it into a college business proposal ... or maybe even the groundwork for a future non-profit.

I hope to continue to grow this project each year and help brighten the holiday season for as many people as possible. I have found that in doing so, I am also helping myself, for I have found such a sense of pride and happiness in helping others. I promise to always do my small part in spreading the true Christmas spirit.”