Group Gears Up to Send Holiday Goodies

By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 11, 2007 - In California, a modern-day Mrs. Claus is rallying her helpers once again to fill care packages with goodies for troops serving far from home during the upcoming holiday season.

Though Operation Gratitude's "Holiday Drive 2007" doesn't officially kick off until the first "packing party" scheduled for Veterans Day weekend, the group's volunteers already are hard at work, founder Carolyn Blashek said.

"Our volunteers have already started the prep process (of) soliciting for products, collecting troop names, and sorting, inspecting ... and folding products," she said.

Additional packing weekends are scheduled for Nov. 23-24, Dec. 15-30 and Dec. 29-30. Blashek said she expects not only to fill about 60,000 care packages in those four weekends, but also to reach another milestone.

"(Operation Gratitude's) 300,000th package will be assembled on Dec. 15 with a projected delivery on or near Dec. 24," she said. "We already have a very wonderful commitment for another exciting gift!"

Blashek is keeping that tidbit to herself for the time being, but recipients of the 200,000th and 250,000th packages each received a new car. Marine Lance Cpl. Jordan Richards, the recipient of the 200,000th package, received a new Dodge Caliber. Blashek is hoping to present Army Spc. Alfonso Sanchez, the recipient of the 250,000th package, with the keys to his new Jeep Patriot by the end of the year.

Those receiving an Operation Gratitude care package won't be disappointed even if it's not the milestone 300,000th box, though. Blashek said packages will include food items, T-shirts, toiletries, greeting cards, as well as DVDs, CDs and other entertainment items.

"In addition, we are looking at generous commitments for computer flash drives and small plush toys," she said, adding that a new and "vastly improved" Operation Gratitude Magazine with letters from "very special people" will be included in the boxes.

This campaign marks Operation Gratitude's fifth holiday drive, but Blashek hasn't lost her enthusiasm for showing her appreciation to troops. In fact, she said, it's the troops' e-mails, and one in particular, that help keep her going.

She recently received an e-mail from a soldier whose unit was getting ready to head home. He just wanted to thank Blashek and let her know that she was doing more than just packing boxes. "Your care packages helped lift morale here greatly, and you should know helped save the life of a young soldier," he wrote.

That young soldier never got anything at mail call and didn't have much family back home, the writer said. His unit learned later that he had planned to commit suicide on Christmas, but changed his mind after receiving one of Operation Gratitude's care packages.

"The soldier now writes letters and e-mails to folks whose names were in the bo,x and the soldier's attitude and outlook on life has really improved," the writer told Blashek. "Your care package made a major difference in a human life."

Letters like that motivate all of Operation Gratitude's volunteers to push on, Blashek said.

Operation Gratitude is a supporter of America Supports You, a Defense Department program connecting citizens and corporations with military personnel and their families serving at home and abroad.

*Related Sites:*
Operation Gratitude  [ ]
Group Gears Up to Send Holiday Goodies [ ]