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“My men and I still need every bit of your support.”

A guest post from deployed First Lietuenant John A., who is serving in the United States Marine Corps:

As American service members continue ten more years of commitment to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom, we cannot help but think:

We are not alone in this fight.

I signed up for duty for a few reasons. I believe in public service, self-sacrifice, and the challenge to do something profound. I found these ideals in the Marine Corps.

What amazes me most, however, is along my adventure I’ve met people and civilian organizations that share my same vision.

Thank you so much OPERATION GRATITUDE!

I first encountered Operation Gratitude on the fallow plains of southern Afghanistan after a long, back-breaking patrol. I returned to my patrol base to find my Marines bright-eyed and full of smiles; something was amiss from our drudging normalcy. 

For the first time in months, and the first time ever for a handful of my Marines, we received packages from another world—home.

My heart immediately melted from the kindness shown by the charity of Operation Gratitude. For the first time since departing home, my Marines changed their socks, ate an American  snack, read a supportive letter,
and laughed at a child’s innocent bravado, such as the letter (pictured, right) from the American boy named Austin who who wished us a happy New Year and wrote that he hoped we would “sevive the whore.”

Those care packages forever increased our morale, changed our outlook, and reset our resolve.

Words cannot express our gratitude as you continue to walk by our side while we continue this fight for ten more years. Thanks again, Operation Gratitude. My men and I still need every bit of your support.

Semper Fidelis.

Editor’s Note: Our country has commited to involvement in Afghanistan for the next ten years – Operation Gratitude’s commitment is to continue our mission as long as any American service member is deployed in a hostile region. Please stick with us…Will you please help us support these heroes? Every donation of $15 pays for our shipping and assembly costs to send another care package — consider making an online donation today: DONATE NOW)

Also — letters like young Austin’s are treasured by the troops who receive them. Writing letters is a way for everyone — young and old! — to be involved supporting our brave military: Write a Letter Today.

THANK YOU for your generous support!

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Happy Anniversary, Operation Gratitude!

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! 

To get a really good idea of how Operation Gratitude has grown and changed, please watch these “oldie-but-goodie” videos…

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=02tcb7b34do&feature=plcp&context=C4bcde8cVDvjVQa1PpcFMpZd2Jc6uAR0jBX_okUaiyq6d0CipydeY%3D=640&h=385]

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6C7u2d6g2Vs&feature=plcp&context=C4fe777dVAvjVQa1PpcFMpZd2Jc6uAR7cS0ONI3Xdug-1-TZtliO0=640&h=385]

As always, THANK YOU for your support!

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Ready for Some Good & Dirty FUN?

It’s time to get down and dirty for the troops! The 2012 Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run Series Presented by Subaru starts on April 15 in Los Angeles and zig zags across the country to a total of ten different cities, ending in Sacramento on October 28.

2011 Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run

Operation Gratitude Volunteers at the 2011 Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run, pictured left to right: Chris Pulos, Bob Donovan, Kimmie Lewkowitz and Carolyn Blashek.


Do you see Carolyn “The Boss” Blashek on the far right of this photo from last year’s Mud Run at Castaic Lake? She did ok…but she isn’t 100% covered in mud, and we think that’s just WRONG! Our challenge is this: Carolyn has pledged that she will get muddy from head to toe if we can raise $5,000 for Operation Gratitude through Team OpGrat! Go to this ActiveGiving link to make a donation online today: Support Team OpGrat!

Please help our dedicated team of volunteers reach the goal, and Carolyn will get down and DIRTIER than she did last year!

Still not sure what a mud run is? Check out this video from last year’s fun:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HuIpqTFLhAA&rel=0]
All the mud runs feature 5K and 10K off-road courses filled with:

  • Military-style Obstacles
  • Commanding cargo climbs
  • Wild water crossings
  • Mud, mud, and More Mud!
  • Post-race Food, Music and an awesome Tech Tee

Questions? Visit the Mud Run FAQ page here or send us an email: opgrat@gmail.com. As always — THANK YOU for your support!

P.S. If you have photos you’d like to share from last year’s Merrell Down & Dirty Mud Run, please send them to us via email – opgrat@gmail.com – and we will pin our favorites on a new Operation Gratitude Pinterest “pin board.”

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Your Support Makes All This Possible!

THANK YOU! Your generosity makes it possible for us to put smiles on the faces of hundreds of thousands of:

  • Heroes in harm’s way
  • Wounded Warriors
  • Military Children anxiously waiting at home
  • Military families & Veterans facing financial distress

At least 200,000 U.S. troops are still deployed in harm’s way throughout the world. We continue to send to them our individually addressed care packages filled with snacks, entertainment items, hygiene products, and personal letters of appreciation.

In addition, Operation Gratitude has started several new programs in response to developing needs within the Military Community. Here’s a brief description of these exciting developments:

Troop Care Package Program: Since 2003, we have assembled and shipped over 700,000 packages to deployed Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines. This year we plan to send another 75,000+.

Battalion Buddy Program: We have sent over 50,000 cuddly stuffed animal “Battalion Buddy” packages since May, 2011 to the children of deploying service members. We plan to send another 50,000+ in 2012. Word of our Battalion Buddy program has spread rapidly throughout the family readiness community and we have thousands of orders waiting to be filled! (Family Readiness Officers and battalion leaders wishing to request Battalion Buddy packages should send an email to: BattalionBuddy@gmail.com.)

Wounded Warrior Program: Our “Purple Heart” Care Packages provide comfort items to troops recovering in Military Hospitals and Wounded Warrior Transition Units.

First Responder Care Kits: Essential supplies are collected, assembled into easily transportable kits and provided to emergency response teams deploying into crisis situations.

Military Family Care Packages: Basic necessities, including food, toiletries, household products, blankets and clothing are given to Military families and veterans facing financial hardships and homelessness due to unemployment.

Concerts that Care & Hiring Fairs: We are producing free comedy and music concerts for troops and their families plus opportunities to connect with potential employers on Military bases around the country.

We rely on the generosity of the American people to continue these efforts in support of heroic troops, veterans, wounded warriors, first responders and military families. Please consider ways you can be involved by making a financial or product donation or by joining us at the armory and volunteering your time. (Live out of the Los Angeles area and can’t volunteer in person? There are many ways to be involved from ANYWHERE in the country. Find ideas here: Take Your Pick!)

Find more information at our website: Operation Gratitude or send questions to opgrat@gmail.com.

Once again: THANK YOU for your support!

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Spring 2012: Scarves for Troops Update!

A guest blog post by Scarves for Troops coordinator, Elaine Campbell:

“…When the Treasure becomes a Memory, the Memory becomes a Treasure…”

It is with warm memories and a heavy heart that I tell you Joan Mazzarelli has passed away. Joan was a true patriot. During WWII she knit sweaters and socks for the troops.  Joan said, “I did it for the boys in WWII and I’m doing it for the boys and girls in Afghanistan and Iraq now.”

Her love and support for our military was unsurpassed. An American flag was flown over an Afghanistan base in her honor. As L.A. Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy phrased it, “She’s part of the fabric of the U.S. war effort.” Joan warmed many a heart and put smiles on thousands of faces. She was a light in the world and will be greatly missed.

Please take a moment to learn more about this remarkable woman who knit over 550 scarves each year for the past several years to include in Operation Gratitude care packages. Casey Stegall of the Fox News Channel did a wonderful story about Joan in late 2010: http://bit.ly/ybBxb1

We receive so many heartwarming letters from our troops about your scarves — the time and effort we give here at home to make something special for our troops, who risk life and limb for us every day, means so much to them. Your handmade gifts in Operation Gratitude care packages may be the greatest way that we can honor their service and express our support. Thank you for your continued participation! One of our amazing heroes wrote to us upon receiving one of your scarves:

Dear Operation Gratitude: My name is Staff Sergeant (SSG) R.B. from Maryland and I am currently stationed in Kuwait. In one of the packages Operation Gratitude sent to me a scarf was enclosed, so on New Year’s Day I ran a 5k wearing the scarf.

Looks nice on him! Here’s another letter we received:

God does work in mysterious ways. I am currently serving in the Southwest Province of Afghanistan. I received the very nice knitted cap in the care package. It has come at a great time as it is now getting very chilly here in the evenings and morning!   The hat will be put to great use as I sport a “shaved head” hairstyle! I am quite fond of this style of hat. I will wear it proudly. The rest of my team and the soldiers, marines, seaman and airman that we support will certainly partake in the other goodies provided in the box from your organization. God Bless! “Aim High…” Major B.E.S.J. USAF

KNITTING UP A STORM!!!

Knitters and crocheters, you are all such an inspiration. You bring tremendous joy and support to these troops! We received 38,423 “items of warmth” over the 2011 scarf/hat drive. These items, plus those items-in-waiting from the end of the 2010 drive, means we succeeded in our goal of an item of warmth in EVERY box sent during our 2011 Holiday Drive! The conscientious, caring efforts of all knitters and crocheters is an incredibly heart-warming achievement. You’ll read about just a few individuals in this update: selfless, loving people who care deeply about supporting our military, who view receiving a note from a recipient of their scarf or hat, “a rare gift,” to quote one of our cherished knitters.

Meet Lynn Neill (pictured, left), who knit 101 scarves last year. Other members of her family contributed 100 more! Lynn says, “I am on track to match or beat last year’s total for 2012.” Thank you to Lynn and her kin!

Molly Goldblatt (pictured, right) has been a tremendous supporter of Operation Gratitude in a multitude of ways over many years. Besides knitting for the troops and getting others involved knitting and crocheting, she has held fundraisers and book drives, donating countless books to include in our boxes. Many thanks to Molly.

I want to bring special mention to Kelly South whose story we recently featured. Please  read her courageous, inspiring story, written in her own words. She shares her story much better than I can:  “The pain went away, and all I felt was joy…”

Kelly crocheted over 1,000 scarves and hats for Operation Gratitude. Asked why she made this commitment, Kelly responds, “It’s because of what our military does for us. Day in, and day out, they make the ultimate sacrifice and ask nothing in return. They are as selfless as I would strive to be. They are the people we should look up to, and thank each and every single day, for the freedoms we all share.”

Another one of our wonderful volunteers, Julie Riehle, agreed to share her letter to Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, with us:

Thank you for your nice letter re: the scarves I knitted. I am sorry I could not knit more but my husband had a stroke two years ago and I am his sole caregiver, so I don’t have a lot of time. But we spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices and it is a good take along.

My husband was a pilot of a B-24 in WWII I’m the South Pacific. His plane crashed in a rice paddy on his second to last mission. He lost six of his crew but managed to save the rest. He was lucky. He lost his front teeth and almost lost a leg and an ear. To this day he is involved in the VFW and is very into the military.

I am working on scarves for this year and will complete as many as I can. God bless your organization and God bless America.  Sincerely, Julie

She’s a special lady. We thank Julie’s husband for his WWII service and wish him well!

The knitting group from Pinehurst United Methodist Church in North Carolina has been contributing to our troops for years. I wanted to share parts of an email from them:

One of our members just brought in a huge pile of yarn for us to work with for next year.  And she said that she has another pile to give to us!!! So, we keep knitting. A very sweet, wonderful story: One of our members, Charlotte, was in the hospital and then to a rehab facility for convalescence. She is well up in her 80′s, but she is knitting up a storm. She had her neighbor bring in all her finished scarves because she knew we were sending out our last box. Yesterday, one of us visited her and she had another scarf done and was busy working on more scarves for next year. She is quite a neat lady. Well, that is all the news from Pinehurst, North Carolina. Thank you so much for all that you are doing. It is wonderful!

Some things I’ve learned this year as Scarves for Troops coordinator:

1. The best way to attach your personal notes to your scarves is with a piece of yarn through a hole in the note and then tied to the scarf (shown, left). Include your contact information — an email or “snail mail” address — so the recipient can send you a “thank you”! (If you’re uncomfortable using your personal address, feel free to use ours — opgrat@gmail.com — but please also include your full name so we can be sure to forward the message on to you!)

2. Avoid yarn that is very bulky. Even though a scarf is within the size measurements, it can still be a bit too bulky (dense). Be assured, we always do our best to include as many of the scarves as we can. Still, the box is not that large, so please be mindful always of size and density.  The flatter the scarf the better–we fold them about 10″ long and have no more than two inches in depth per box for our knit items. (Rest assured however, when too large for our regular boxes, those items now bring warmth and comfort to our Wounded Warriors.)

Important note on Scarf SizePlease adhere to the following measurements which have been slightly modified: 5-6 inches across, about 48 inches long.  Smaller than that and they look a bit skimpy; longer than that and they’re often too bulky!  No fringe, please.

“The Wide and Thick of it” The photos at right and below are an example of too thick, too wide, too narrow and too long. You can see how a scarf this size (right) really takes up most of the box. Please do not feel downhearted if you sent scarves this size. They are welcome, needed and appreciated by our Wounded Warriors.

“The Wide and Narrow of it” Scarf helpers and models, Myrna and Karen (pictured, left) are holding examples of the wide differences we receive in scarf widths. Between 5”-6” are ideal for the boxes we send. Thank you Myrna and Karen, both for modeling and for the countless hours volunteering at the Armory!!

“The Long and Short of it”  Hopefully your scarves will measure somewhere in between these two (like the one around my neck)!  :-)

3. Many of you are thoughtful to place each scarf in an individual plastic zip-lock bag. However, the bags fill with air and take up too much room in our boxes so I ask that you do not use individual bags. Instead, when mailing to the Armory, please place scarves all together in one large plastic zip-lock or draw-string bag so the scarves remain clean and dry during transit to us and while waiting to be shipped to the troops. Plus, it will save you money on those individual bags! 

4. Fleece scarves and gators made by scout troops and school age children are most welcome. If possible please accompany each one with a note: Made by Troop # …. Or class and age and/or children’s artwork. It makes the occasional imperfection easily forgiven and in fact endearing. However, do not send children’s emails or home addresses. You can use a teacher’s or troop leader’s email address.

5. For lots more information about the Hand-Made Items program, patterns for scarves, hats and Bandana Cool-Ties to knit, crochet and sew, check out our blog posts: Made With Love for Troops and Scarf, Hat, & Cool-Tie Project Details.

5. You may like to subscribe to a free crochet site for free patterns and tutorials: AllFreeCrochet.com
http://allfreecrochet.com/Crochet-for-Charity/Operation-Gratitude

Heading Into Spring!  Our hope is that even though the 2011 Holiday drive has ended, you all will be inspired to keep your hands and needles busy making scarves for the 2012 Holiday Drive. Our goal is to send 50,000 this year!! So, we will surely need your help.

Our storage at the armory is limited until after the Patriotic Drive which ends in June, so please hold on to your completed items. We ask that you please wait until August to send scarves and hats to us.

In the meantime, if you’d like to take a break from knitting/crocheting, but would still like to craft, we have a great project for our spring Patriotic Drive: Bandana Cool-Ties

You all know how hot the desert is in the summer. We want to include Bandana Cool-Ties in our 50,000 Patriotic Care Packages to offer our troops some relief from the blazing hot sun. These items are often worn around the neck while in uniform, so please stick to military colorsPlease see directions below. No need for notes on these (although they would be welcome). Please encourage all groups looking for a fun and worthwhile project to make some cool ties–it goes much faster with a team or a partner. 

If you’re not familiar with what Cool-Ties are, visit this website to see lots of different photos.

These are great to do with a friend or a “team!” You will find your own rhythm and best methods, but here are COOL-TIE DIRECTIONS to get you started:

1. Cut strips of fabric about 6 1/2 inches wide, with the length measurement being the width from selvage to selvage.
2. Sew a small width end, then turn 90 degrees and sew along the whole length side (1/4 inch margin), leaving the last short width end open. 
3. Turn it inside out and iron the creases.
4. Sew (about 13 inches) up from the closed end, across the thin width. 
5. Add in the crystals (aka polymer beads). IMPORTANT:  Be sure the crystals slide all the way down to the seam.
6. Sew across the thin width again to make a pocket for the crystals. 
7. Close the final open thin width end, by tucking in the edges and sewing across.  

For more information and to order the polymer beads: http://www.watersorb.com/polymer_cool_neck_bands.htm

Where to Send: 
Operation Gratitude / California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA  91406 Attn: Cool Ties

Note: Please use this Donation Form in whatever packages you send us. Find helpful shipping tips, cost-saving ideas and important information at our blog: Donation & Shipping Info.

If you want confirmation of delivery on your shipments of item donations prior to receipt of our acknowledgment letter (allow up to 12 weeks), please use the tracking system provided by your shipper. 

Lorene VanArk-Miller has graciously agreed to continue to help me with email correspondence. Lorene has been a volunteer with Operation Gratitude since the beginning — as a knitter, Cool-Ties maker and letter writer!! She’s the BEST and knows a lot about the organization!  Please feel free to email her with questions and/or suggestions. Lorene’s email: LoreneM@socal.rr.com

Thank you again for all your generous support! “Busy Hands, Happy Heart!”

With love and gratitude,
Elaine Campbell and Lorene VanArk-Miller
Sharon Howard Scarves for Troops Project Coordinators
LoreneM@socal.rr.com
hebc@sbcglobal.net                                                            

P.S.  If you have not yet donated towards the shipping costs of our care packages and would like to do so it would be greatly appreciated! Please make checks payable to Operation Gratitude, 16444 Refugio Road, Encino, CA  91436 or donate online here: DONATE.

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Doing What We Can to Help our Heroes and Their Families

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 opgrat@gmail.com.

THANK YOU!

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“The pain went away, and all I felt was joy…”

Please take a few moments to read this heartwarming and inspiring story from Operation Gratitude volunteer Kelly South:

Just before Christmas of 2010, I had been looking for a way to volunteer my time. A friend told me about Operation Gratitude, and what they do to support our military men and women. I had never heard of this group, but as I read information on the home page, I knew I had found the right place. I come from a family that has sent countless men and women into battle, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.

As I looked over the list of projects to volunteer for, I began to become a bit discouraged because many of them required a lot more physical movement than I could do. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, and my days are gauged by how much pain I will have to face every time I roll out of bed. But as I read further, I came upon the link for crocheting and knitting.  

That link would help make 2011 a very special year for me, and for over a thousand of our troops.

Now I had never tried to crochet or knit, but I’m a somewhat intelligent person and figured it just couldn’t be that hard to learn. My only concern would be my hands. How could I do this, when I have to have steroids injected into all of my knuckles every 12 weeks to take down the swelling and pain? Would I be able to push through the pain? I have always said that I would not allow this disease to rule my life, and I was determined to do my best. So, I headed off to You Tube, and watched some videos about how to crochet.

After watching videos for a solid 10 minutes, I decided to give it a try. The first scarf I made took almost six hours to complete – this was going to be a lot harder than I had thought! I decided to have another go at it to see if I could do better, and the second one only took two hours. By the time I made my 10th, I was down to just 45 minutes for each scarf, and I began formulating a plan in my head. If I could make just two or three a day, I might be able to make 700 scarves by the time they would need to be delivered. And that crazy idea made 2011 one of the most satisfying years of my life.

Every day, no matter how I felt, I crocheted. I began to realize that the crocheting was delaying the need for my shots, and actually helped with my overall pain. The more focused I became, the better I felt. Granted, there were days when I couldn’t even open a bottle of water because my hands were so swollen and painful, but still I crocheted. I knew what our troops faced every single day in the war zones, and I knew that my pain would not stop me from honoring them.

Month after month I crocheted, and at the beginning of August, I finally sat down and did a count. To my utter amazement, I had not only made 700, but I had actually made more. I couldn’t believe I met my goal even faster than I ever imagined. As I told my family and friends that I passed 700, they asked how it felt to be done with my project. What they didn’t know was that I still had time before they needed to be delivered, and that I had already set my new target goal to 1000. Off I went.

I made my delivery on November 5th, and with me were my main supporters: My friend Irene Figueroa, who wrote over 1000 letters to attach to all of my scarves. Without her, I would have never been able to crochet as much as I did. If I had had to sit and write those letters, I doubt I would have even made my first goal. My partner Ruth Norris, who helped me pay for the $1500 of yarn and was my biggest cheerleader. And finally, my friend Carol Scott, who allowed me to store the scarves in her garage. I also received yarn and gift cards from countless friends and family to help offset some of the cost.

On the day of delivery, we were asked to transfer the scarves from my tubs to those belonging to Operation Gratitude. It took all four of us, plus a dozen Girl Scouts, almost 45 minutes to get the job done! As we moved them we did a count, and to my utter dismay I had only made 991 scarves and hats. I was just nine short of my goal and not happy about it. Those nine scarves bothered me so much that I returned two weeks later with 15 more scarves, and the feeling of accomplishment finally hit.

I had really done it. I had made my goal. The pain went away, and all I felt was joy. I knew that over a thousand of our men and women in uniform would have that moment of home for the holidays. They would know that they were not forgotten by those of us at home, and how much we truly appreciated all they had sacrificed for us. My biggest hope is that for those few short moments home wasn’t quite so far away.

I have been asked why I would do so much for people I don’t know…Why would someone in my condition work so hard and spend so much? Why would I take a year of my life and crochet? Why do so many?

It’s because of what our military does for us. Day in, and day out, they make the ultimate sacrifice and ask nothing in return. They are as selfless as I would strive to be. They are the people we should look up to, and thank each and every single day, for the freedoms we all share.

When people ask those questions of me, my answer back to them will always be the same: “Why wouldn’t I?” –submitted by Kelly South

THANK YOU, Kelly!!

Kelly used the following YouTube videos to teach herself these crochet basics:
Very Beginning Chain
Simple Single Crochet Stitch
Double Crochet Stitch

MORE RESOURCES & INSPIRATION:
Learn How to Crochet
Learn How to Knit
Scarf, Hat, Cool-Tie Project Details: Materials, Size, Patterns
Making Scarves: How To’s and Tips!
Knitting at 98! Meet Joan Mazzarelli!

Have YARN, but no TIME to make scarves/hats? We have volunteers like Kelly who would appreciate donations of yarn to help them continue their projects! Please let us know if you would like to contribute in this way to our Scarves for Troops Program! Send an email to opgrat@gmail.com. THANK YOU!

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Mail Call: Do the Troops Really Say That?

Do you ever take time to visit the Operation Gratitude website and read the troop letters and emails we post in our Mail Call section? When you do, you’ll find heartfelt and emotional letters like this one — explaining that our packages provide much more than just fun and delicious items…they provide peace of mind:

Dear Operation Gratitude,

Four days ago a lot of the Marines here in my platoon got your packages. We get a lot of packages from different organizations but these have been given an honor only bestowed by Infantry Marines. When one of us receives a package another Marine will usually say:

Is that an Operation Gratitude one? Those are bad**s.” 

It’s not much, but from a grunt there is no higher praise for something.

To me these packages mean much more because I was once a volunteer at this organization. I would walk the lines with packages and stack them on the pallets.

Now being on the receiving end it’s not only the gifts that mean something to me. Every once in a while we get the chance to use the internet and go on Facebook. When I went on, I saw my family packing packages with all of my friends and extended family. Life is hard enough over here for all of us because we’ve lost some good friends. Some of those friends made the ultimate sacrifice and it has hit us all very hard in the past month. On top of this, thinking about your parents and wondering how they’re doing never helps but sometimes you can’t help go there.

When I saw my family surrounded by smiling Operation Gratitude volunteers helping pack a special package for me, I felt as if a weight was lifted off my chest.

To me, Operation Gratitude is more than just packages but it’s also hope. Hope for the people we leave back home who worry about us. The people who are left in the dark while we’re out here and the people who are always on our minds. It gives them a way to communicate to us and say that they’re still here for us. To me that just holds so much more than the other packages I get. For that I thank you.

Thank you Operation Gratitude for what you have done not only for us, but what you have done for everyone who has family and friends in harm’s way.

From, T.M., USMC

Once again, the troops say it best: THANK YOU to all who help Operation Gratitude bring hope and encouragement to our Heroes serving in harm’s way and to their loved ones at home.

Remember: Every donation of $15 pays the shipping and assembly costs to send another care package. Please consider setting up a “Recurring Donation” so you will know you are  providing hope to our Military all year long: Donate Now.  In the “Donation Information” section, click on “Recurring” as the donation type and then select the frequency (eg. once a month).

Now, you can send one or more care packages every month of the year — providing that “peace of mind” and certain smiles to heroes like T.M. and his comrades.  Donate Now

Thank you for your support!

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Volunteer Schedule: January – June 2012

Winter Schedule: Jan. 3 — Feb. 29, 2012

Weekday Hours:
Mondays & Fridays: 9-4
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: 12-4

CLOSED:
Mon., January 16 (Martin Luther King Jr. Day)
Mon., February 20 (Presidents’ Day)

Special Fridays:
 Jan. 20 and Feb. 24 – Labeling
All other Fridays: Battalion Buddy Prep/Assembly

Patriotic Drive Schedule: March 1 — June 30,2012

Product Deliveries / Donation Drop-Offs:
March 12 — May 21 during our listed hours of operation only.

Weekday Hours:
Mondays & Fridays: 9-4
Tuesdays, Wednesdays, Thursdays: 12-4

CLOSED:
Fri., April 6 (Good Friday)
Mon., May 28 (Memorial Day)

Special Friday: March 30 – Labeling if needed  

Weekend Dates & Hours (All Assembly Days 9-4; All Prep Days 9-12):
Sun. March 4         Prep 9-12
Sat. March 24        Prep 9-12
Fri. March 30        Labeling if needed
Sun. April 15          Down & Dirty Mud Run-Lake Castaic
Sat. April 21           Prep 9-12
Sun. April 22     Assembly 9-4
Sat. April 28          Prep 9-12
Sat. May 5          Assembly 9-4 (Big Sunday Weekend)
Sat. May 12            Prep 9-12
Sat. May 26        Assembly 9-4
Sun. June 3           Prep 9-12
Sat. June 16       Assembly  9-4
Sun. June 24         Prep 9-12
Sat. June 30      Assembly 9-4
Sun. July 1             Yard sale  TBD

IMPORTANT — Please Note: These dates and times are subject to change. Please sign-up for our email list and/or check our website, Facebook and Twitter pages for last-minute updates/changes. Thank you!

Volunteers age 12 and up are welcome to join us at the armory!

If you live in the Los Angeles area and would like to volunteer in person, please email our Volunteer Coordinator prior to the event at: OpGratVolunteer1@yahoo.com. Write “Operation Gratitude Volunteer” in the subject line. State day(s),
shift(s), number of volunteers and email addresses.

For more information about volunteering, please take a few moments to visit our website’s Volunteer Info & Schedule page. For the armory address and all other details, please email our Volunteer Coordinator: OpGratVolunteer1@yahoo.com. Please be sure to put “Operation Gratitude Volunteer” in the subject line.

Thank you for your support!

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Email from an “Annoyed” Army First Sergeant…

Our care packages certainly aren’t meant to annoy the recipients, but somehow we managed to do just that recently:

I am writing this a week before Christmas, from ‘an undisclosed location in southwest Asia’. As I’m writing this, I am a bit annoyed at your organization. Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep up the façade of a tough old Army First Sergeant with tears streaming down your face?

When I arrived on duty this morning, I was greeted by a package on my desk from Operation Gratitude. I am happy to say this package was not the first of this type that my Soldiers and I have received over the past few months. Each time, I am TOTALLY overwhelmed at the support shown to us, complete strangers, by various individuals and groups of individuals, also complete strangers. If ever there is doubt where the true beauty and strength of our country lies, it’s in men and women such as those comprising your organization, who readily and unselfishly give of themselves to help others. 

I opened the package, more out of curiosity than out of need for the items contained therein. On top, I found a stack of cards and notes and your magazine. As I started reading the notes…I simply cannot describe the feelings. I was completely overwhelmed at the  expressions of support, appreciation and well-wishes. The cards and notes from children and young people were especially touching as I realize they represent future generations of Americans…and realize they are being raised to recognize, understand, and appreciate important concepts such as sacrifice, courage and honor.

As I read your letter in the beginning of the magazine, I was deeply touched that you not only felt the initial compassion when you encountered that Soldier returning to the ‘war zone’… but that you invested the time, expense, interest, dedication, passion and personal and family sacrifice to do something about it…and something that was/is so meaningful to so many.

I think perhaps the most touching thing of all is to see the pictures of the volunteers of your organization…people from all walks of life…multiple generations…united by a love for our country and a dedication to purpose. Trust me when I say, the feelings are indescribable.

Thank you so much for your dedication. A BIG THANK YOU to your people and your organization for all of the hope and renewed faith you distribute with your packages. The physical items contained in the packages are much appreciated, but the tremendous intangibles contained within are priceless. I truly hope and pray that our Lord will bless each and every one of you during this holiday season…May each of you experience an extra measure of peace and joy during this festive time, knowing the smiles that you have spread to the most remote and unsettled of regions.

With warmest regards this holiday season,
L.L.H.
1SG, USA
Afghanistan

Thank YOU, 1SG H., and all who serve alongside you! We are honored to be able to support you by sending care packages filled with goodies, letters, thanks and love from home!

And to those of you on the Home Front who have made this all possible — the volunteers, donors, knitters, letter writers, recyclers, collectors and supporters — our deepest thanks to each and every one of you. We could go on and on singing your praises and expressing our gratitude to you…but we feel “Annoyed Army First Sergeant” says it best, so we say: “Ditto that!”

All our best wishes for a very blessed, healthy and peaceful New Year to one and all! We look forward to continuing this journey with you in 2012!

Love,
The Operation Gratitude Team

(Note: To receive email notices regarding new Operation Gratitude blog posts as they are published, please subscribe via the link to the right.)

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