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Operation Gratitude began with one woman

posted on Jul 11 2004 0 Comments

Operation Gratitude began with one woman
This story appeared in the Antelope Valley Press on Friday, July 9, 2004.
Valley Press Staff Writer

PALMDALE – Unbeknownst to the Kiwanis Club of Palmdale West, “Operation Gratitude” didn’t actually start with them, and it won’t finish with them either.
In fact, if the original founder of the organization, Carolyn Blashek, has her way, the effort will never end.

“We will always have troops in the military,” Blashek said.

Blashek’s affiliation with the club is zilch, which is exactly why their drive caught her attention. After hearing about and then reading an article about the fund-raiser, Blashek contacted the organization to make sure they were legit.

As it turned out she learned their intentions were as good as hers.

When the Kiwanis Club launched its drive with the name “Operation Gratitude” about a month ago, the name was one of a few they tossed around. They weren’t familiar with the Southern California-based nonprofit which started sending care packages to troops in March 2003. But they are now. To date, the original “Operation Gratitude” has sent nearly 20,000 care packages with more set to be shipped soon.

Today hundreds of volunteers turn out to the organization’s drives but its beginnings are more humble; it was built on the desperate desire of one woman to make a difference.

After Sept. 11, 2001, then-46-year-old Blashek, a retired attorney with a family at home, started calling every possible branch of the military offering her services – literally.

“I actually tried to enlist myself but was very firmly and politely told ‘Lady, you’re too old,’ ” Blashek said.

Down but not out, she started volunteering at United Service Organizations, and something she heard a soldier say set her course.

“He said, ‘I don’t think I’ll make it back this time, but it won’t really matter. No one will even notice,’ ” she recalled.

At that moment Blashek decided she had to make sure the troops overseas knew that people care about all of them and want them to come home, she said.

From there a care package effort that began in her living room grew to something she never imagined; and what was at first 650 care packages sent out by her personally became thousands upon thousands put together with contributions from ordinary citizens wanting to show their support.

On Tuesday, opening some of the dozens of thank-you letters and e-mails that she receives each day, Blashek said the whole experience has been overwhelmingly gratifying.

Efforts of groups like the Kiwanis are a big help. Blashek’s own supplies are starting to dwindle so the nearly $3,000 in cash and much more in supplies comes just in time, she said.

Blashek has the connections to get the supplies to Iraq because of her affiliation with the California National Guard 746th QM BN with whom Staff Sgt. Elizabeth Cowie, a Valley resident, has been a key contact, Blashek said.

“Without her vision and courage to invite Operation Gratitude into the armory and to encourage her unit to support us, we could never have grown in the way we did,” Blashek said.

Steve Angebrandt, Kiwanis Club secretary, said despite the mix-up over the name, it’s turned out to be a win-win for everyone concerned.

With the help of Blashek’s organization, books, magazines, baby wipes, shampoo, neck buddies, miniature prayer quilts, playing cards and so much more will soon be en route to Iraq.

“They’ll turn over to us all of the items they have collected and we’ll take care of it,” Blashek said.

“It’s a blessing for everyone,” Angebrandt said.

For Blashek it’s something even more.

“I just felt so strongly that I needed to be a part of war on terror,” she said. Judging from the gratitude that pours in daily from American troops – she is.

For details on Operation Gratitude, check out their Web site at opgratitude.com.

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