Operation Gratitude

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Volunteers help parcel out a nation's gratitude

posted on May 26 2007 0 Comments


At an armory in Van Nuys, groups fill, package, label and ship necessities and treats to troops.
By Rong-Gong Lin II
Times Staff Writer

9:02 PM PDT, May 26, 2007

Rip-rip-rip! Rip-rip-rip!

That was the sound made at a Van Nuys Army National Guard Armory on Saturday by a battalion of citizen volunteers armed with Priority Mail shipping tape, with the rolls unleashing a screech every time a box was taped up.

Into the boxes went candy, DVDs, hand sanitizer, energy drinks, magazines, suntan lotion, foot powder, Girl Scout cookies, decks of cards, socks, even a Beanie Baby or Mr. Potato Head — all to be sent as care packages to U.S. troops in combat zones across the globe.

“They use dental floss to sew up tears in their uniform. They like body wipes — they can’t shower for days on end.

And a squeeze tube of peanut butter can taste awfully good when all you’re eating are MREs,” the military’s bland “meals ready to eat,” volunteer Jack Knight, 69, of Studio City said Saturday.

Hundreds came out to kick off the first day of Operation Gratitude, an eight-day effort spread across several weekends through June to pack and ship tens of thousands of packages to soldiers stationed in war zones in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere around the world.

The operation, founded by Encino resident Carolyn Blashek, was founded four years ago.

Her Valley-based operation receives donations from private individuals, community groups and corporations from across the country.

It sends out two batches of packages each year, aiming to have them arrive before the 4th of July and Christmas.

“The first mission is to put a smile on a soldiers face,” said Blashek. “The second mission was to provide an avenue for every American to express their appreciation.”

Across the sprawling floor of the armory were operations set up to make the packing efficient — sets of workers taping up boxes; others acting as a human conveyor belt, hauling four boxes at a time; while another row of people tossed in such goodies as phone cards, gum, toothpaste, trail mix and cough drops.

Then another group of volunteers placed handwritten notes in each box, taped them, and slapped on addresses.

Volunteers included teenagers, parents whose children have been stationed in Iraq and veterans of World War II.

Silvia Sellen-Jara, 52, helped tape up the packages in honor of her son, Army Spc. Dennis L. Sellen, Jr., 20, who was killed in Iraq on Feb. 11.

“I know he would be very proud of me,” said Sellen-Jara, of Granada Hills. “This is a way to say thank you to all the soldiers for what they are doing for this country. We want them to know it’s not in vain what they are doing.”

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