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America Supports You: Operation Gratitude Gears Up to Send Holiday Care Packages

American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Oct. 25, 2006 – While donations have been arriving at Operation Gratitude’s headquarters for some time, the group’s Holiday Drive 2006 officially kicks off on Veterans Day weekend, the group’s founder said.

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A recipient of one of Operation Gratitude's Holiday Drive 2005 packages expresses his appreciation for the care package. Operation Gratitude's Holiday Drive 2006 is currently under way. Courtesy photo
  

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Four weekends, eight days total, have been set aside to pack up and ship the boxes, Carolyn Blashek said. Those weekends include Nov. 11-12, 24-25 and Dec. 16-17 and 30-31.

“Clearly the packages that are shipped during those two December weekends are not going to get there in time for Christmas,” she said, though the group keeps tracks of when a unit is scheduled to come home. “A lot of them do have January re-deploy dates, so we’re making sure that those packages go out earlier.”

Operation Gratitude is a member of America Supports You, a Defense Department program highlighting ways Americans and the corporate sector support the nation’s servicemembers.

Blashek estimates that more than 2,000 volunteers will help pack the 50,000 care packages the group expects to send servicemembers overseas between Nov. 11 and Dec. 31. Volunteers have already begun to sort donations that will fill those boxes, and they’re hoping to have more work to do before Veterans Day rolls around and the donations keep coming arriving.

If the group does hit its goal of 50,000 packages, which Blashek feels sure it will, it also will hit another milestone. “One of the exciting thing about his holiday drive, we will hit the 200,000th overall package at some point during this drive,” she said.

The group’s 100,000th package was two and a half years in the making and was sent during the last holiday drive, Blashek said.

Currently the group has shipped more than 150,000 packages, all containing basically the same types of things. Non-perishable food, entertainment and personal items, as well as phone cards and letters to the troops top the list, she said.

The boxes being sent during the holiday drive won’t be much different, though about 24 corporate sponsors have donated generous amounts of their products, Blashek said. One company again donated a significant number of flash drives, which are popular with the troops.

“It’s a way for them to save a lot of their information, whether it’s letters that they’ve received, or a lot of them put pictures on there because so many do not have their own computers,” she said. “If they can put their information onto a flash drive, they have it. If they’re at a different computer the next day, it doesn’t matter.”

Gratitude also hopes to be able to include a significant number of small stuffed animals or similar items that servicemembers can give to local children. These toys have actually helped save coalition and Iraqi lives, Blashek added.

“One thing that had a major impact on all of us this year was the e-mail … from a Marine that said, ‘We gave the (stuffed animals) out to the kids in the neighborhood and in return they told us where (the roadside bombs) were’,” Blashek said. “As a result, we’ve really made a push to make sure there’s something cute like that in every package.”

Information on how to donation to Operation Gratitude can be found on the organization’s Web site. Donations are always appreciated, but those for the Holiday Drive 2006 will be collected through mid-December, Blashek said.

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Related Sites:
Operation Gratitude
America Supports You

Click photo for screen-resolution imageSailors display goodies they received in a Holiday Drive 2005 care package from Operation Gratitude. The troop-support group is already gearing up for its Holiday Drive 2006, which officially kicks off on Veterans Day. Courtesy photo  
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