Operation Gratitude Gives Everyone a Way to Thank the Troops

By Melissa Renahan, Military Spouse and Writer

After 9/11, Carolyn Blashek reacted like many of her fellow Americans – she looked into joining the military. Unfortunately, she was informed that she was too old, so she set out to find another way to show her support and patriotism. After months of working in the LAX {USO} military lounge, and speaking to countless soldiers heading overseas who were feeling unappreciated, she decided she needed to do more.

She realized that sending a package with a note to say thank you could go a long way, so, not knowing anyone personally even in the military, she began the uphill battle of gathering addresses. Slowly but surely, the grassroots effort took shape.

“Before I knew it, my living room was covered with donations and the names of those downrange asking for boxes were pouring in,” Blashek recalled. So she went from sending five packages a week to 20, and then she got help via the local National Guard armory, which provides the space for this selfless endeavor.

“We have always had a dual mission: to let the troops know the American people care and to provide the American people with a way to say thank you,” she explained.

Throughout the year, Operation Gratitude conducts two major drives to collect items that can be included in care packages; the Patriotic Drive runs from March to June and the Holiday Drive takes place September through December. In the downtime between the two events, the nonprofit still collects items and makes up extra packages so that they can accommodate any requests.

To date, Operation Gratitude, with a volunteer workforce of 12,000 people locally, has delivered 658,896 packages to individual servicemembers downrange and will continue to do so until they stop receiving requests.

In fact, despite any recent drawn downs, Blashek said that numbers haven’t changed too much.

“We still anticipate sending between 85,000 and 100,000 packages this year, which is our normal level of activity” she said. “There are still people downrange who need things so we’ll keep working.”

Annually, Operation Gratitude spends close to $1 million dollars on postage alone; all of which comes from donations and fundraisers. Every $15 in cash donations basically sends one package downrange to a servicemember.

“We also ask people to write personal letters that can be enclosed in the packages. That small act costs nothing but means so much to the troops who receive them,” Blashek said.

Certain items are always needed, like new DVDs, books, games or gaming systems and non-perishable food items like trail mix or energy bars. Funnily enough, they may also be able to help people empty their attics or basements since they send a Beanie Baby or Webkinz (tags still attached please) in every package – none of which are donated by the companies.

To donate items to Operation Gratitude, visit SargesList listing, print and complete a donation form and then mail the packages to Operation Gratitude/California Army National Guard,
17330 Victory Boulevard, Van Nuys, CA 91406, Attn: Rich Hernandez.

“We send the best packages there are, but what I really hope the servicemembers find is the love and respect that put those items in there,” Blashek said. “I want them to know that someone back home cares and is thinking of them.”

“As a Soldier stationed in IRAQ, I just had to take a moment to thank you for what you do for the Soldier(s).¬† I don‚Äôt think you will ever truly realize the impact a care package has on a Soldier.¬† I am writing you to let you know, last night I received one of your very wonderful care packages.¬† I have to say that the Operation Gratitude box is the most special item from the states that I have received.¬† Your whole team of folks certainly has a superb Go- given talent to play such a major role in sending all these needed items through Operation Gratitude.¬† When I received it last night, I just had to write the whole team there.¬† I am into my fourth annual deployment overseas, this ride is IRAQ again.¬† Seeing that things appear to be coming to a close in the near future, I would like to encourage you all to remain faithful in sending us (Soldiers) these wonderful care packages.¬† Do you realize that before I departed my residence in Washington DC this year, I purchased many of these items and was already out of them, until now.¬† Now to see you guys thought of us and sent me a care package really made it special and put a big smile on my face.¬† Thank you for all that you do!!¬† I am sending this note today as just a little something to say thank you as well.¬†¬† Again, keep up the great work; we Soldiers really do appreciate you.¬† Just know that I am sure I speak for several other hundreds of service members who have not had the opportunity to write you from their location.¬† Thanks!!”

VICTORY IS OURS!! CPT B. F. L., US Army

SargesList Listing
OpGratitude Website

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