Every Day is a Day On: Community Volunteers Show Gratitude Together

The Every Day is a Day On series spotlights volunteers at Operation Gratitude who go above and beyond to support servicemen and women, their families, and first responders.

Our second spotlight features Jeanne Bauer. For more than ten years, Jeanne a former middle school teacher has been involved in community outreach in the San Carlos United Methodist Church in San Diego. The main focus of her congregation’s participation with Operation Gratitude includes knitting hats and scarves and writing Christmas cards which are all sent during the holiday season in care packages to those currently serving in the military.

This is Jeanne’s story…

OG: We appreciate you sharing your story today! Let’s begin with how you found your way to Operation Gratitude. 

Jeanne: It was through the church. After my retirement from teaching in 2009, our church’s Associate Pastor called me in and gave me a choice: take over Adult Education or Community Outreach in the church. I chose Community Outreach.

Staff wanted to expanded the limited program to involve all community members. I looked around, talked to other churches, and went to conferences held by Outreach programs. Operation Gratitude was mentioned at one of those events. I had no clue about the organization.

I went online and researched, took it to the committee, and that’s how our volunteer efforts began. We’ve been volunteering for Operation Gratitude since 2010. 

I don’t knit. I don’t crochet. But I am good at organizing things, and I like getting other people involved. Also, I’ve enjoyed being the main line of communication between Operation Gratitude and my church. 

OG: Do you have any connections to the military that makes volunteering more personal? 

Jeanne: A number of members in our congregation are retired military. In fact, the city of San Diego is military-driven due to our connection to places like Camp Pendleton, North Island Naval Air Station, Marine Corps Air Station Miramar, and the Marine Corps Recruit Depot. MCRD has graduation ceremonies every Friday, and Operation Gratitude volunteers pass out congratulatory bags.

Some of the men and women who graduate have no friends and family to cheer for them, so Operation Gratitude volunteers do that. 

OG: What are some volunteer options from Operation Gratitude that are popular within your church? 

Jeanne: One is the Handmade with Love program involving hats and scarves. We have ladies who knit all year round and then turn them in by a September deadline. Another one is the church’s “Labor with Our Neighbor” program. It happens each August and normally runs for three days where church members go out into the community and do activities and projects.

There are also projects at the church for people who can’t go out. Every year, those who stay behind work on Christmas cards. Individuals are asked to donate cards, and then people come together one day for several hours and write notes inside the cards.

The card-making sessions produce as many as 600-1,500 cards, which are sent along with the hats and scarves to be put into Operation Gratitude Care Packages. We even have an Operation Gratitude mailbox inside the church where people can drop off letters all year long. 

My church has also participated in the Halloween Candy Give-Back Program where Operation Gratitude delivers treats to servicemen and women, first responders, and healthcare workers. Our congregation recognizes and responds when they hear the name Operation Gratitude. 

OG: Are there any memorable moments you’d like to share? 

Jeanne: A few years ago, we received a letter that had a picture of a squadron of Spanish servicemembers who had each received a care package from Operation Gratitude. They were standing in front of a plane in their uniforms, holding the care package under one arm and a Christmas card in the other.

We don’t know if the boxes they received were from our church, but a letter came from them through Operation Gratitude thanking us. They expressed gratitude that people outside of their own country were thinking of them and valued their service. That one thank you made quite an impression on our church.

The letter created this connection, from one heart to another.

Now, when we do the “Labor with Our Neighbor” program, people show up who aren’t even in our church. They have heard about what we do with Operation Gratitude largely from this experience. 

The letter created this connection, from one heart to another making everything we do worthwhile. We would have done it regardless. It is nice to know that what I do is valuable to someone else. It is important. It matters. 

OG: What would you say to a prospective Operation Gratitude volunteer? 

Jeanne: What I like about Operation Gratitude are the many ways people can serve. They make sure you know that you are important to them. Anytime I have ever emailed Operation Gratitude, they have responded quickly and personally. This is not the case with all of the organizations I have been involved with. Anytime I have a question, they make an effort to help me.

There is a place in Operation Gratitude for everyone to feel wanted, to pay it forward or say thank you, regardless of age or physical limitations

OG: Is there anything else you’d like to share? 

Jeanne: We always do our cards for the military. It is our main focus. We like to say things like “stay safe.” When it comes to letter writing, we emphasize the “three P’s”: no preaching, no politics, no profanity.

Several years ago, people were struggling with what to write. In response, I created a template of writing prompts and another of silly Christmas riddles. It makes it easy for the people who have a difficult time thinking of something to say, especially those writing a lot of cards. 

I believe it is important for generations to work together in service. The younger generations have to be led. In our church, we encourage children and grandchildren to be included in the Christmas card writing but we have no older members teaching younger ones to knit or crochet.

If we don’t train the younger generations on the importance of service, they may not learn it on their own. The big task is: What projects will interest and meet the needs of young people? We’re counting on Operation Gratitude to lead us in this endeavor by providing a variety of projects – something for everyone.    

OG: Jeanne, thank you so much for your time and all of your hard work! 

This post was written by Jake Kelly, a communications intern at Operation Gratitude. Jake is from the Chicago suburbs and is a sophomore at the University of Connecticut pursuing a Bachelor’s in Journalism & History with a minor in Political Science.

Read more in the Every Day is a Day On blog series.

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