To commemorate the donations, Cardarelli held a party where children donated their candy and drew Christmas cards, which will be delivered to the soldiers along with the candy. Mann Orchards in Methuen donated apples, which students could enjoy as a healthy option during the party.
The program is also a hit with parents.
Cardarelli said parents often bring in bags of candy just to give to Operation Gratitude without getting money back.
The program started nationwide in 2006 and the amount of candy donated has increased every year.
Last year, 60 tons of candy were collected across the United States and many more are expected this year.