Washington -- Over the Memorial Day weekend, "Operation Gratitude" assembled and shipped almost 20,000 care packages to deployed troops as part of its "Patriotic Drive," the group is gearing up for another big push.
During the weekend of June 18-19, volunteers will put together and ship thousands of additional care packages loaded with an assortment of items, including snacks, Girl Scout cookies, DVDs, CDs, games, T-shirts, phone cards, and personal letters of support.
Carolyn Blashek started Operation Gratitude in March 2003, after talking to several servicemembers who were on their way to Iraq. Blashek felt the care packages would boost their morale and be a reminder to the troops that folks back home supported them, she said.
"While they are so far away from home, I want our troops to know that Americans all across the country remember and respect them for their service and their sacrifice," she said.
To cut down on overhead expenses, Carolyn's Encino, Calif., home serves as the operation's business office. The sorting, packing and shipping are all done at the nearby California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys.
The nonprofit organization has thus far sent almost 65,000 packages to servicemembers serving in Afghanistan, Iraq, Kuwait, Bosnia, Korea and Kosovo, as well as to numerous ships, she said.
Individuals, organizations, schools, community groups, businesses and corporate sponsors have donated all of the items in the care packages. Shipping expenses are covered by financial contributions from citizens and businesses, Blashek said.
"When I first started Operation Gratitude, my only focus was on reaching the troops. What I did not expect was the groundswell of support and interest from Americans all across the country." Blashek said. "I am delighted that Operation Gratitude is providing a means for Americans of all ages to participate in this effort."
As long as the U.S. has forces deployed around the world the effort will continue unabated, she said.
"Many troops have told me that they expect to receive letters and packages from their family, but to receive something from total strangers confirms their commitment to our country and their belief in the American people," she said.
Blashek and Operation Gratitude have been the recipients of a little gratitude themselves. They have received many thank you e-mail messages from troops.
"I just want to take this opportunity to thank each and every one of you for your support and contribution to the care packages that our soldiers have received during Operation Iraqi Freedom. It is indeed a pleasure and an honor to have this type of patriotic appreciation displayed by a loving and caring American society," wrote an Army sergeant major.
Blashek says that letters like this make the project extremely gratifying and make her appreciate her freedom that much more.
"Not a moment of my day goes by that I do not appreciate that I am able to live in freedom and security because brave men and women in uniform have volunteered to serve our country," she said. "It is an honor for me to send these small expressions of enormous gratitude."