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Americans serving around the world to get packages

posted on May 31 2005 0 Comments

Los Angeles Daily News

Living troops also remembered
Americans serving around the world to get packages
By Alex Dobuzinskis
Staff Writer

Sunday, May 29, 2005 – ENCINO — A human assembly line has taken over the California National Guard base in Encino, as volunteers stuff thank-you packages for U.S. troops in Iraq and other parts of the world.

Working to the sound of pop music on the speakers and the screech of postal tape being stuck on boxes, about 200 volunteers passed through the armory on Sunday as part of a packaging blitz organized for the Memorial Day weekend by Encino-based Operation Gratitude. The organization’s goal for the weekend is to assemble 21,000 packages.

By 2:30 p.m. on Sunday, 14,000 packages were ready to mail.

“These people are incredible. I mean, this is the middle of a holiday, and they’re standing in the middle of a warehouse, and none of them sit down and few of them take a break,” said Penny Alfonso of Glendale, a nurse who was coordinating volunteers for the project.

Volunteers took boxes and walked in a line as other volunteers tossed handfuls of donated goods into each box. Then volunteers sealed the stuffed boxes with postal tape, attached preprinted address labels to individuals serving in the military, filled out customs forms and took the boxes outside for a Postal Service truck to pick up.

Among the donated goods were DVDs, CDs, candy, small fans, batteries, T-shirts and toiletries.

Robert Steinhauer, 71, a Korean War veteran, stood at a station tossing beef jerky into the packages. He said such packages were virtually unknown when he was in the military.

“I got a cup of coffee once from the Red Cross,” Steinhauer said. “I know the guys really appreciate it because I know I would have.”

Operation Gratitude founder Carolyn Blashek, 50, said she started the organization after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, when she tried to join the military but was turned down because of her age. She was also inspired by a conversation with a soldier who felt no one back home would care if he died.

“It made me realize that I have to let all our troops know that people care about them back home,” Blashek said.

The organization receives goods and money from individuals and companies across the United States.

Several volunteers have friends or family members serving in Iraq or Afghanistan. On Saturday, one man who lost a lung fighting in Iraq helped out.

In addition to knowing several people serving in the military, Joanne Kelley, 51, of Winnetka said her father and her uncle both fought in World War II.

“It’s kind of one of those family things — makes you realize that I have a lot to be thankful for living here,” Kelley said.

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