BY DENNIS MCCARTHY, Columnist LA Daily News
The two recent e-mails from Iraq taped to Carolyn Blashek’s home computer tell the story.
“I live with 17 Marines and sailors in one room,” a young Marine writes. “Everyone got one of your care packages and everyone loved it, especially the cookies and Beanie Babies.
“The cookies are excellent and the Beanie Babies help us out a lot with the local kids. We give them candy and toys, and they give us the location of IEDs (improvised explosive devices) in the area.”
The other e-mail, written by a medic, said Blashek’s care packages have helped the troops in some unexpected ways.
“After our patients took the items they wanted, a soldier asked if he could take everything that was left,” the medic wrote.
“Two weeks later, he returned and told us he had taken the boxes out on one of his patrols and given them to a couple of local families.
“These familes, in turn, gave out the names and locations of insurgents in the area. Your boxes saved the lives of many soldiers who patrol the streets where these insurgents set up bombs.
“Thank you for all you’ve done for us. You never know how completely you can affect someone’s life.”
Whenever Blashek got frustrated and down this past week, thinking that maybe no one cares, she remembered the e-mails and kept on going.
“I’ll use every penny we have and take out another loan on my house to keep going,” she said Thursday. “What we’re doing for our troops is too important to stop now.”
Operation Gratitude – which started as Blashek’s one-woman effort to send packages to troops who weren’t getting any mail – has grown with hundreds of volunteers. After sending more than 150,000 packages over the last three years, the nonprofit group needs a new home.
Additional units and equipment have recently been assigned to the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, which Operation Gratitude used for its holiday and patriotic drives. The National Guard needs the space back.
“We got so big we sort of took over the place,” Blashek said. “Our stuff was everywhere – in the parking lot, motor pool and on the drill floor.”
School and city officials have been helping Operation Gratitude find a new location, and last week it looked as if they had.
An outbuilding behind the closed Granada Hills Hospital was vacant and available for six months before it would be leveled to make way for a high school being built on the site.
It wouldn’t be permanent, but volunteers could at least start stockpiling supplies for their holiday drive.
But last week, Blashek was informed that the Los Angeles Unified School District legally could not allow Operation Gratitude to use the site because it would violate bidding requirements of the state Education Code.
“People had good intentions and wanted to help them out, but we just could not go around the Education Code,” said Michele Meghrouni, an attorney for the school district.
Now Blashek is back to square one. Operation Gratitude has to find a home by Oct. 1 so it can let corporations know where to send the supplies they donate for the troops’ holiday packages.
“We are looking for 7,000 to 10,000 square feet of relatively open space for assembling and storage,” Blashek said.
“We just need a commitment of at least October through January for our holiday drive. I’ll worry about the Patriotic Drive in May after that.”
If you can help Blashek’s group, which works so hard to build the morale of troops overseas email [email protected]
For information on the group, see www.operationgratitude.com .
Dennis McCarthy’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Sunday.
(818) 713-3749 Los Angeles, CA, 8/18/2006