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Gratitude Holiday Drive

posted on Nov 05 2006 0 Comments

Gratitude Holiday Drive
Contributed by: Pam Vetter on 11/5/2006

It takes a village at the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys to organize, sort, and assemble care packages for Operation Gratitude. With the help of six Jewish Temples on Mitzvah Day and dozens of other volunteers, the organization packaged up several thousand care packages for our troops.

Sergeant First Class Robert Allinder said everyone is involved at the Armory. “Operation Gratitude is an excellent program. I have a lot of friends overseas who get boxes and it’s a breath of home,” Allinder said. “People need to know they’re not alone, regardless of what the media says. The bottom line is that we need to support our troops.”

Encino resident Carolyn Blashek, Founder of Operation Gratitude, was proud of all of the volunteers reaching out to American troops. “We’ll probably assemble 5,000 care packages today with the temples helping. Mitzvah Day is about doing a good deed and these volunteers certainly are doing just that. We’ve had about 250 volunteers and it’s amazing,” Blashek said. “Operation Gratitude gives people a way to say thank you.”

One of the first volunteers to come on board three years ago was Supervisor Jack Knight. “I served two years in the Army from 1962 to 1964. My two years of service were what they call gravy training when our country was not at war. I feel indebted to our men and women in uniform who put their lives on the line. This is part of a greater effort which is vital to their moral,” Knight said. “I talked to a Vietnam Veteran and I explained that my contribution was so small when I was not at risk. He said no matter how or when you serve our country, it’s part of a bigger picture. If there’s one person missing, it weakens the total effort. Every service person and every volunteer is important.”

Director of Operations Charlie Othold, has been working hard for the past three years. “We have our Holiday and Patriotic Drives. We accept donations October through December and then May through July. The more sorting we do, the easier it is on everyone,” Othold explained. “Everything is welcome. We need more power bars and energy bars. We need travel size deodorants, shampoos, and toiletries. We also need lip balm, which is very important in the heat. The individually wrapped wet wipes to use on the go are very important. We got 127,000 of them this year and we can put two or three in each care package. They need them. They’re perfect for cleaning weapons. I was in the Air Force and I spent 21 months in Vietnam between 1968, 1970, and 1972. We want to do everything we can to let them know we care.”

Volunteer Joan Rimmon is also one of the many dedicated volunteers. “It’s the greatest thing because gratitude is number one,” Rimmon said. “This is a little way of showing the troops that we support them.”

The Largman family helped in assembling care packages. Kayte Largman, 13, enjoyed being a part of Operation Gratitude. “It was fun and felt good knowing soldiers will get what we put together in care packages.”

Operation Gratitude Supervisor, Roberta Van Trump, has worked with the organization for three years. “We can always use supplies such as DVD’s, CD’s, fun items, candy, novelties, shirts, and hats. We welcome volunteers as well,” Van Trump said. “My husband, Bill, is a Vietnam Vet. When he came home, he didn’t get a good reception. So, we’re helping our troops get a good reception home this time.”

Pamela Waizenegger has been a hard-core volunteer for three years. “I’m happy to show up. It makes you appreciate people who are risking their lives for our freedom,” Waizenegger said.
There are several levels of work involved in getting the boxes to the troops.

Supervisor Judy Ihrig, who has worked with the organization for two years, said every donation must be recorded. “We log in all of the items that come in and make a record so we can send a thank you note. Then, we sort everything. The sorting process takes a long time. We received a lot of candy during the week of Halloween. We have greeting cards, socks, hats, personal products, and disposable cameras among other items,” Ihrig said. “My husband, who used to be an Eagle Scout, takes part as well.”

“This is the best public service we’ve ever been a part of,” Bill Ihrig explained. “It’s great fun and we’re reminded what wonderful people there are in the world to help our troops. Supporting the troops means something here. So, I tell others, put your sweat where your words are. Don’t just say it, do it.”

Volunteer Peter Glowaski participates because it’s important. “I’m a Veteran of the Air Force. I served from 1960 to 1964. Being on service away from home and getting packages from home, honestly, it shows someone cares,” Glowaski explained. “There’s no politics here. No war talk here. We all support our troops and they appreciate it. There are some service men and women who would not receive letters or packages without Operation Gratitude. It also makes you feel good to take part.”

George Jacobs served in the Navy from 1951 to 1958, during the Korean War. “I’ve spent three years volunteering and it’s very gratifying,” Jacobs said. “When I served, I laid in the hospital and I know these packages make a huge difference to our troops. If it wasn’t for God, we wouldn’t be here and if it wasn’t for our troops, we wouldn’t be here either. I’m grateful to be a part of it and I can’t wait to come and volunteer.”

For father and son, Eric and Jason Greenwald, they were first-time participants. “Every ounce of assistance we give our troops is important. It’s nice to do something constructive for them,” Greenwald said.

Greenwald’s son, Jason, smiled from ear-to-ear and added, “I think it’s great fun to help!”

For more information on how you can help support Operation Gratitude link to www.OpGratitude.com.

To read a related story on Operation Gratitude at Chaminade link to http://valleynews.com/WestHills/Stories/Education/School-News/Story~146256.aspx.

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