To the surprised delight of the crowd, First Lady Michelle Obama, with her mom, Marion Robinson, daughter Malia, and Vice-Presidential spouse Jill Biden arrived early in the day to work on the Assembly Line and encourage the Volunteers.
Various elected officials also attended the service event to show their support and join the volunteers: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Senators Chris Dodd (Connecticut) and Jon Tester (Montana), Governors Deval Patrick (Massachusetts) , Martin O’Malley (Maryland), Jennifer Granholm (Michigan), and Chris Gregoire (Washington); Representatives Bobby Bright (Alabama), Christopher Carney (Pennsylvania), Steve Driehaus (Ohio), Jeff Flake (Arizona), and Dina Titus (Nevada); and D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty.
Several incoming cabinet members, nominees and advisors worked the Assembly Line as well: General Eric Shinseki, Shaun Donovan, Hilda Solis, Janet Napolitano, Ken Salazar, Tom Vilsack, Peter Orszag, Ray LaHood, Lisa Jackson, Eric Holder, Timothy Geithner, Susan Rice and Christina Romer.
During the closing ceremony, the volunteers were thanked by Staff Sergeant Ericka Castro, who recently served in Iraq: “I know that these care packages are extremely meaningful, particularly when you are serving overseas and are thousands of miles from home. Care packages made me feel better physically and emotionally when I was in Iraq, because it was a reminder that my service was valued and that people back home thought of me.”
Carolyn Blashek, Founder of Operation Gratitude, noted that when members of the Military open the care packages, they will find all sorts of fun and useful items donated by very generous donors. But, she added, “Equally important as the specific items in the care packages are the energy and enthusiasm of the volunteers who pack them. When our recipients open their Operation Gratitude packages, they will not only see great items, but also feel the love, respect and appreciation of the American people. That is what Operation Gratitude and “A Day of Service for Our Military” is all about.”
Target, a long-time Corporate Donor of Operation Gratitude, and the lead corporate sponsor for “A Day of Service,” also procured many of the care kit items and provided wonderful thank you gifts (“Eco-Totes”) to the 12,000+ volunteers who attended the RFK event. “Target has been honored to partner with Mayor Fenty, Serve DC, Operation Gratitude and the generous people around the country, on this day when we remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,” said Laysha Ward, president, community relations, Target. “This day of service was an opportunity to say “thank you” to the service members from towns large and small across America who are far from home, including our own team members on active military duty.”
At the conclusion of the day, D.C. Mayor Adrian M. Fenty announced the final tally:
85,000 care kits assembled
, 10,000 more than the initial goal set for the event.
“It is an honor and a privilege to bring together volunteers from across the nation to serve our troops while commemorating the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr,” said Mayor Fenty. “In preparing these care packages, we celebrated an everlasting spirit of public service, and reminded those who have sacrificed the most that they are in our thoughts and in our hearts.”
For video footage of the event, see the “Favorites” section of the Operation Gratitude YouTube Channel.
For photos, visit: Operation Gratitude Photo Gallery