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!
U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.
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.
General James Amos, 35th Commandant of the Marine Corps,
Brings Milestone Package to Afghanistan
Encino, CA–January 6, 2011: Operation Gratitude today revealed that the organization’s 600,000th Care Package, containing the keys to a Victory Vegas 8-Ball Motorcycle, was personally delivered on Christmas Day by Marine Corps Commandant, General James Amos, to a Lance Corporal deployed in the Sangin District of Helmand Province, Afghanistan. The Lance Corporal, whose name will be revealed upon his return to the United States, is an infantryman with the 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines (3/5), also known as the “Dark Horse Battalion.”
“I received a phone call from a very happy young Marine on Christmas Day,” exclaimed Carolyn Blashek, Operation Gratitude founder. “He said: ‘Your package means the world to me. I appreciate everybody who put something in that care package and everybody back home. And I thank you for your love and support, as do all the other Marines who received packages from y’all. Have a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.'”
Ten days earlier, Blashek had flown to Washington DC to meet General Amos, who, upon learning the recipient was a Marine with the 3/5, had offered to deliver the 600,000th Care Package during his trip to Afghanistan. The Commandant met with more than 12,000 of the 20,000 Marines deployed in Afghanistan during the ten day trip. While visiting with the “Dark Horse” Marines in Sangin on Christmas Day, he presented Operation Gratitude’s milestone care package.
“We were outside in the cold night air; about 200 Marines had just finished their Christmas meal. All of the senior leadership in the Battalion were present,” wrote General Amos. “The Battalion Commander called [the Lance Corporal] up in front of everyone and I gave him the package. He read your letter to everyone before he figured out what the gift was. Then he read the second letter from Victory and was handed a picture of the bike…that did the lad in. He was crying and his fellow Marines were cheering. I don’t think that it could have gone any better.”
General Amos added: “God bless the many faithful Operation Gratitude volunteers for what they have done…over 600,000 times!! My hearty thanks to all!”
The Victory Motorcycle will be presented to the Lance Corporal when the Battalion returns to Camp Pendleton in the Spring of 2011.
“Victory is always looking for meaningful ways to thank those serving in the military and our veterans,” said Victory Motorcycles General Manager Steve Menneto. “The opportunity to partner with Operation Gratitude and donate one of our motorcycles to the organization’s 600,000th care package means a lot to our company. We encourage everyone to continue finding ways to thank our troops for all they sacrifice in service to our country.”
The 3rd Battalion, 5th Marines, deployed in Sangin since late September, 2010, have faced an extremely dangerous and challenging operational environment, sustaining numerous casualties. According to Lt. Colonel Jason Morris, the Battalion Commander, significant progress has been made in fracturing the enemy while providing humanitarian aid to the local populace.
“We hope our Milestone package, along with the approximately 1000 regular packages sent during our Holiday Drive, brought good cheer to the 3/5 Marines during this difficult time away from loved ones,” said Blashek. “We look forward to welcoming home each of the Marines in the Spring and personally thanking them and their families for their courageous service to our nation and the cause of freedom.”
Operation Gratitude, a non-profit, volunteer-based organization, shipped more than 45,000 individually addressed care packages during the holidays and plans to send another five thousand or more before the Spring. The group’s Patriotic Drive will start in late April and run through June, sending an additional 40-50,000 care packages to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Coast Guard and Marines deployed in harm’s way.
Operation Gratitude Sends 600,000th Package with Keys to Motorcycle
Victory Motorcycles Donates a 2011 Vegas 8-Ball
Van Nuys, CA – December 11, 2010 – To the classic roar of freedom at a “Support the Troops Rally” style event, a record-breaking two thousand cheering Operation Gratitude volunteers witnessed the arrival of a very special gift to be sent in the organization’s 600,000th Care Package: A 2011 Victory Vegas 8-Ball.
SSG Elizabeth Cowie, co-founder of the organization, rode the bike onto the drill floor and added the bike’s key, along with several other unique gifts, to the Milestone package, proudly assembled and held by Ann Kurachi, a cheerleader from Trabuco Hills High School. Kurachi was flanked by Santa Claus and dozens of Military dignitaries, elected officials and Operation Gratitude “Hard Corps” Volunteers.
“Operation Gratitude Care Packages are an expression of enormous respect and appreciation for those who voluntarily put themselves in harm’s way to protect our freedom,” exclaimed Blashek. “This exciting 600,000th package event represents a celebration of all the brave Americans who wear the uniform of our great nation. We are honored to send this package to a young Service Member currently deployed in harm’s way, who represents all our courageous heroes– past, present and future–from all branches of the Military.”
In addition to the all-black, Victory Vegas 8-Ball cruiser, the 600,000th package will include a year’s supply of both Emergen-C and 5 Hour Energy, a lovingly hand-made scarf, a Flip camera from Café Press, a DVD player, a MEElectronics M-9 Earphone Set, t-shirts and hats from Victory Motorcycles, Operation Gratitude and UCLA, a signed picture from the Minnesota Vikings Cheerleaders, and assorted items and personal letters provided by more than 250 Corporate Sponsors and Friends, and by tens of thousands of individual donors across the country.
A secret but very special delivery of the 600,000th Care Package is underway.
The winners of the “Guess the Halloween Candy Weight,” contest were announced, having guessed within a few pounds the total weight of candy donated to Operation Gratitude through December 3: 178,056 pounds, 14 ounces (89 Tons) .
Blashek and Cowie informed the energetic crowd that the 600,000th package represented:
~ 4.8 Million pounds, equal to 2 ½ million TONS of product
~ $6 Million of postage
~ 30 Million individual items
~ $60 Million worth of product
sent to the troops through Operation Gratitude since its inception in 2003.
Operation Gratitude Volunteers were honored to work side by side with Brigadier General Mary Kight, the Adjutant General of California, Major General John Harrel, the Commander of Army forces in California, Command Sergeant Majors William Clark and Bob Brickley, the senior enlisted Soldiers in California and South Carolina, respectively, plus representatives from several Corporate Sponsors, Women in Film, members of the Motorcycle community, and dozens of school, church, scout and civic organizations.
Significant check presentations were made by Cinnabon, Inc ($50,000), Merrell Down and Dirty Mud Run ($33,800), Lake Havasu Patriot Days ($34,000 plus 1000 Stuffed Animals, 200 hand-made Scarves and 5000 letters), and National Charity League, San Fernando Valley Chapter
& Coast to Coast Computer Products ($20,000).
During the lunch hour, Volunteers were treated to a delicious meal generously provided by the Rotary Club of Lancaster. Corporate Sponsor Alacer distributed samples of its Emergen-C products, two million packets of which have been included in Operation Gratitude packages since 2004.
The 2011 Victory Vegas 8-Ball has a new 106 cubic inch Freedom V-Twin engine, a 6 speed overdrive transmission, and 113 ft-pounds of torque. The bike will be customized with the “Victory Military Salute Badge,” the symbol of Victory’s gratitude to the men and women who sacrifice for our freedom.
With the shipment of its 600,000th package, Operation Gratitude wrapped up its 2010 Holiday Drive, having assembled more than 100,000 care packages for U.S. Service Members this year.
To view all previous Operation Gratitude Newsletters and Updates, click here: