By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
Nov. 4, 2008 - With mailing deadlines rapidly approaching, a "targeted" effort at the Van Nuys National Guard Armory on Nov. 1 and 2 ensured that 70,000 servicemembers would receive goodies from California this holiday season. Operation Gratitude was joined by employees of retail giant Target. At least 100 Target employees from southern California helped to pack boxes during the weekend initiative.
"Not only did so many employees devote their weekend to assembling care packages, but their companies also made large donations of products to fill the packages and funds to pay for shipping," said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude. "Such dedication and generosity send an important message to our military that 'supporting the troops' is not just an empty phrase but, in fact, a belief that is backed up by action."
Employees from other companies -- including Disney, NBC/Universal and American Airlines – also pitched in with the packing, along with members of church and school groups.
One young lady celebrating her 16th birthday brought 15 friends and spent her birthday party working to support the troops. Her reward was the playing of singer Neil Sedaka's "Happy Birthday Sweet 16," and a 400-plus strong rendition of "Happy Birthday."
"Large groups like [the corporate volunteers] add a level of excitement and fun to the package assembly days," Blashek said. "Each group wears their own T-shirt, which fosters a team spirit that energizes all the volunteers."
That enthusiasm is greatly appreciated by the troops, judging by the responses posted on the organization's Web site after other care package drives.
One soldier wrote: "We are happy to have received one of your care packages this past week. In fact, we received your box on July 4th! Mail is certainly the most important thing for morale for our platoon, and getting a big shipment of mail on the 4th made the day great. Packages from support groups remind us about the many folks back home who support the military and our Soldiers. So thank you very much for your support, we appreciate all the work that goes into each box."
Volunteers are working to get the more than 70,000 boxes out the door to servicemembers for Operation Gratitude's sixth annual holiday drive. It will take nine full days to make it happen, Blashek said, and Dec. 13 will mark another milestone for the group when volunteers assemble the program's 400,000th care package. In the past, such milestone boxes have included items such as keys representing a new vehicle and tickets for sporting events.