On March 19, 2003, Operation Gratitude got its start in the living room of its founder, Carolyn Blashek. Four care packages were shipped that day. Nine years and more than 760,000 care packages later, we thought we would take a trip down Memory Lane to reminisce and appreciate all that has been accomplished thanks to the help, generosity and dedication of countless friends, donors and supporters…
Operation Gratitude quickly grew too large for the Blashek home. The charity moved to the California Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, CA…
SSG Elizabeth Cowie was our “Armory Angel” who made it all possible for Operation Gratitude to use the armory facilities…Here she is (pictured, right) at the armory with her mother…
As more and more volunteers joined in, Operation Gratitude sent more and more care packages…
We would finish up at the assembly line and form a human conveyor belt to load up the trucks…
…then we’d take the care packages down to the post office…and unload them to be shipped…
…and start all over again!
While much has changed over the years — we’ve added the Battalion Buddy and Wounded Warrior and other programs – what has not and never will change is our commitment to deployed troops who have volunteered to serve our country. We will continue to honor, thank and support them with care packages lovingly-filled with goodies and treats from home.
…It is their amazing work and sacrifice that makes our work worthwhile.
Thank you to all our troops, past and present…and thank you to all who have helped Operation Gratitude over the years!
Many U.S. Military veterans and their families are facing extraordinary financial hardships during this time of worldwide economic upheavals. In late 2011 Businessweek reported that the job crisis is dire, citing for example that the youngest of veterans, aged 18 to 24, had a shocking 30.4 percent jobless rate in October, way up from 18.4 percent a year earlier.
Joblessness often leads to homelessness and our veterans are not immune from this frightening reality.
According to the Veterans Administration: “Current population estimates suggest that about 107,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions…”
While we can’t solve all the problems our veterans and their families might face, we want to offer support and encouragement where we are able. For the past several months, in cooperation with the leadership and chaplain corps of National Guard units nationwide, Operation Gratitude has assembled and distributed thousands of Military Family Care Packages (MFCPs) to Soldiers who cannot find civilian jobs and/or who are homeless, living in cars.
Additionally, MFCPs have been delivered to homeless veterans organizations and VA hospitals.
These care packages contain donated non-perishable food; personal hygiene products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc.); household items (soaps, detergent, etc.); gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens; toys for children; clothing and more, valued at over $100 per package.
With generous assistance from our corporate sponsors and individual donors, we will continue to support deployed troops serving in combat zones and on Navy ships. We will also continue helping veterans and military families — with MFCPs, Battalion Buddy packages and Wounded Warrior packages — as long as there is a need.
Please consider joining our efforts to support these heroes who have selflessly given so much of themselves fighting for our country. Online financial donations may be made here: Donate Now.
For more specific information regarding the types of in-kind donations we accept for the MFCPs, please send an email inquiry to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Van Nuys, CA – December 20, 2011 — As more than 2,000 volunteers, corporate sponsors and other special guests looked on in surprise this past Saturday,
Operation Gratitude “Blue Shirt” Supervisors and 2000 Volunteers Send Greetings on December 17, 2011
No one was more surprised than true American Hero Rodriguez.
As fate would have it, his was the 750,000th name on Operation Gratitude’s Master List started in March, 2003.
Rodriguez, 29, who grew up in Los Angeles and joined the U.S. Marine Corps at 17-years-old, straight out of high school, believed he was invited to the armory to speak about the morale-boosting impact care packages have on deployed troops. While that was true, there was an additional reason Operation Gratitude invited him — to honor this brave young man in person.
Before the surprise was revealed, Blashek introduced Rodriguez by briefly providing details about his life-changing injuries. While in Afghanistan on his eighth deployment in January 2011, he stepped on an improvised explosive device (“IED”) and was severely injured, ultimately losing his right leg and undergoing numerous surgeries to save his left leg.
“Today, less than a year later,” explained Blashek, “Sgt. Rodriguez is not just walking upright with a prosthetic, he skis, surfs, and competes in Wheelchair Basketball, football and rugby, and after one more surgery, plans
|USMC Sgt. Eric Rodriguez|
to stay in the Marine Corps, return to Afghanistan with his Scout Sniper platoon and ‘finish up business.’”
Joining the “Milestone” celebration were friends and sponsors of Operation Gratitude who presented their 750,000th Celebration Gifts to Rodriguez, his wife, Tania, and their daughter Camila.
Among the gifts included in the Care Package were:
1. Two separate, all-expense paid trips to New York — one to the Buffalo Bills training camp and another to a taping of the Rachel Ray show;
2. Tickets to, and special hospitality at, Los Angeles Lakers, Kings and Dodgers games
3. Tickets to the 2012 Rose Bowl game, courtesy of UCLA;
4. Tickets to Universal Studios;
5. Four 3-Day Park Hopper Passes to Disneyland Resort, including a 3-night stay at the Disneyland Hotel;
6. A one-year supply of Emergen-C;
7. A painting of golf Masters: Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods; and an autographed poster of Wayne Gretzky courtesy of Upper Deck;
8. A handmade quilt and scarf;
9. A giant stuffed animal “Chum” Battalion Buddy courtesy of Kelly Toys for Camila; and
10. From actress, model and entrepreneur Kathy Ireland: A Hawaiian Dream Vacation, plus a selection of jewelry and home furnishings from Kathy Ireland Worldwide partners.
Last but not least, Blashek announced a gift from Target made in honor of Rodriguez and wounded comrades — a $15,000 donation to Operation Gratitude, a $100 gift card to Sgt. Rodriguez plus 349 additional $100 gift cards for other Wounded Warriors.
For full details on all the 750,000th Care Package Gifts and donors, please visit the Operation Gratitude blog: Celebration!
Matt Rogers and Bryon Bos sing the National Anthem.
The Celebration Ceremony began with the National Anthem performed by music duo Rogers & Bos — Matt Rogers and Bryon Bos — who also closed the event with a performance of “Coming Home,” the theme song to Lifetime Television’s popular show of the same name. Rogers, an American Idol finalist, is the host of “Coming Home,” and Bos composed the song, which brought tears to the eyes of many a volunteer in the crowd.
Commander Jerry King and Sgt. Eric Rodriguez.
Operation Gratitude volunteers were honored to work and celebrate alongside Sgt. Rodriguez, as well as many other special guests: Commander Jerry King, the 89-year-old leader of the local Jewish War Veterans post who presented Rodriguez with a 50th Anniversary World War II medal, Actors Sean Astin, Kevin Dobson and Erik Estrada, Actor/Comedian Tom Connolly, plus Los Angeles-area politicians (Assemblyman Blumenfield, Controller Greuel, Councilman Zine), members of the Motorcycle community, and dozens of school, church, scout and civic organizations.
Significant check presentations were made by Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run ($61,000); Cinnabon, Inc. ($50,000); Los Angeles Association of Health Underwriters ($12,000); Ride to the Flags/White Heart Foundation ($8,000), and Alacer Corp., the makers of Emergen-C ($5,000).
Blashek, who started the organization in 2003, provided staggering statistics about what the 750,000th package represented:
~ 6 Million pounds of product
~ $7.5 Million of postage
~ 37.5 Million individual items
~ $75 Million worth of product
sent to the troops through Operation Gratitude since its inception.
The Salvation Army of Southern California kept volunteers supplied with morning coffee and bottled water. During the lunch hour, volunteers were treated to a delicious meal generously provided by Al’s Chicken and the Rotary Clubs of Lancaster, Granada Hills and Northridge/Chatsworth. Corporate Sponsor Alacer distributed samples of its Emergen-C products, more than two million packets of which have been included in Operation Gratitude packages since 2004.
With the delivery of its 750,000th package, Operation Gratitude formally ended its 2011 Holiday Drive, having assembled 150,000 care packages for U.S. Service Members, Wounded Warriors and Military Children this year. Blashek reminds supporters, however, that with 200,000 service members away from home and in harm’s way, their work continues, as does the need to raise funds to pay assembly and shipping costs — approximately $15 per care package.
“Between requests from units deployed to Afghanistan and ships at sea, the need to fulfill those requests continues,” she says. “Plus, the Battalion Buddy and Wounded Warrior programs are on-going, year round, with new requests coming in every week.”
Tax deductible financial donations to pay the $15 per package cost to assemble and ship the packages are still accepted online or by check addressed and mailed to:
16444 Refugio Road
Encino, CA 91436
Online credit card donations (tax-deductible) can be made here: DONATE NOW. Please consider a “Recurring Donation” to help us send care packages every month.
Marine Corporal receives Victory Motorcycle; Volunteers, Dignitaries send support to Ronald Reagan Strike Group
|June 7, 2011 — The mood at the Van Nuys National Guard Armory was both celebratory and respectful on June 5 as hundreds of Operation Gratitude volunteers and special guests gathered to assemble care packages for Sailors and Marines assigned to Ronald Reagan Strike Group, and to witness a young Marine Corporal, recently returned from Afghanistan, receive a Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle promised to him on Christmas Day, 2010.
Operation Gratitude Volunteer Coordinator, Penny Alfonso summed up the day simply, “It was a day of laughter, tears, and patriotism.”
Cheek, the recipient of Operation Gratitude’s 600,000th care package, is a member of the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marine Regiment and returned to Camp Pendleton earlier this spring after a deployment in Sangin, Afghanistan. During the deployment, the 3/5, also known as the “Darkhorse” Battalion, endured heavy combat and losses, including the death of Cheek’s best friend, 19-year-old Lance Cpl. Alec Catherwood, of Byron, Illinois.
Pandya told Cheek he was proud to represent Victory Motorcycles and speak on his co-workers’ behalf. “The motorcycle community has always cherished the ‘Freedom to Ride,’ a privilege guaranteed by the efforts and sacrifice of our heroes in the Military,” he said. “We all thank you for what you, and every member of the Armed Forces have done for those of us lucky enough to live in the United States of America,” he said.
Cheek expressed his heartfelt thanks to Victory for the motorcycle and to the Operation Gratitude volunteers for their dedication and support. Responding to a young woman who called him a hero, Cheek recalled the Marines who did not return from Afghanistan. “I’m no hero,” he said. “Heroes are those men who stood beside me in the Valley of Death and gave their lives for freedom.”
Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, said Cheek was the perfect person to receive this gift as a representative of all members of the U.S. Military. “Cpl Cheek was humble and incredibly gracious in accepting the Victory Motorcycle,” Blashek said. “He spoke to us straight from his heart, without a single written note, and with much passion, conviction, and great thoughtfulness. There was not a dry eye in the place.”
In commemoration of the anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s passing, Michael Reagan, his wife Colleen, and son, Cameron, along with representatives of the Reagan Legacy Foundation participated on the Assembly Line to create care packages for the 5,000 crew members deployed aboard aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, named in honor of the 40th President of the United States.
Reagan, the President’s son, read a letter he had received that morning from the Commanding Officer of USS Reagan, Captain T.W. Burke. “Care packages from home are always a welcome surprise and we appreciate everything that Operation Gratitude does to support our Military,” Burke wrote.
Care packages were also assembled and shipped to the crew of guided-missile destroyer USS Preble and guided-missile cruiser USS Chancellorsville, both currently serving in the Ronald Reagan Carrier Strike Group.
Operation Gratitude volunteers will continue to assemble and ship its Patriotic Drive Care Packages through June.