America Supports You: Operation Gratitude Hits Milestone
By Samantha L. Quigley
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 16, 2005 Operation Gratitude hits a significant milestone Dec. 17 when the organization assembles its 100,000th care package to ship to a lucky servicemember as part of its holiday drive.
Operation Gratitude has lifted the morale of tens of thousands of deployed troops since Carolyn Blashek founded the organization in March 2003.
The recipient of the milestone package will receive NASCAR tickets courtesy of Checkers/Rally's restaurants, which also is providing free food for a year, Blashek said. Stays at the San Francisco Hilton, the choice of a package from Harrah's or Harveys at Lake Tahoe, Nev., as well as a digital camera also will be in the milestone package.
"We'll also include some of the regular items that would go into any package," Blashek said, referring to goodies that range from DVDs and phone cards to snacks.
Volunteers will gather at the California National Guard Armory in Van Nuys on Dec. 17 and 18 to assemble 10,000 to 12,000 holiday care packages, she said. At the end of Dec. 18, volunteers will have assembled 38,000 packages during the 2005 holiday drive that began Oct. 15.
Blashek is anticipating a lot of excitement surrounding the expected assembly of the 100,000th package, as the 50 corporate sponsors who provide some of the care package items in bulk have been invited to attend.
"We're using the occasion not just to highlight what we do overall, but really to also thank the very many volunteers, supporters and, particularly, corporate sponsors that have enabled us to reach this milestone," she said. "Really, we could not have accomplished this without (them)."
But all the hoopla aside, it's all about the troops, Blashek emphasized.
"(Servicemembers) expect to receive support from their families. It's a total surprise to receive it from complete strangers," she said. "It reaffirms for them why they do what they do. We hope when they open up that package (they find) the energy and love that's gone into it."
Blashek anticipates assembling the 150,000th package during Operation Gratitude's "patriotic drive" in 2006, which begins Memorial Day weekend and continues into the summer.
To date, Operation Gratitude has delivered more than 98,000 packages to American troops serving in some of the world's harshest conditions, Blashek said. It is funded entirely by private donations and staffed exclusively by volunteers.