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Every Day is a Day On: Hooked on Volunteerism

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 fourth blog in this series features Donna Snell of California. Prior to the pandemic, Donna was volunteering at Operation Gratitude’s warehouse, the FOB, as a blue shirt volunteer on assembly days. Throughout the years, her main focus of volunteerism has been providing quality control of the Battalion Buddy bears that are given to the children of deployed service members.

This is Donna’s story…

Donna Snell, a semi-retired event planner, became involved with Operation Gratitude a few years ago when a friend told her about one of their campaigns. In 2017, during the devastating Texas floods, Operation Gratitude was sending truckloads of supplies to families who had lost their homes. Donna’s friend was collecting clothes to assist with that effort, and Donna joined in to support the cause. This led to Donna attending an assembly day where she described herself as “hooked.”

After that, she began slowly volunteering around her work schedule. Now Donna volunteers almost every day and has worked with every program Operation Gratitude has launched.

There is a need in the world and volunteering gives us a purpose, especially during the pandemic.

Donna’s ties to the military are strong. Her father enlisted in the Army during the 1950s. During his time in service, Donna was born at Walter Reed hospital. Two of her uncles also enlisted, and she has a nephew that served as a fighter jet mechanic on the USS Roosevelt for four years. Her passion for volunteering stems from her family’s history and also inspiration from a gentleman she knew, who was a bombardier and lived to 95. She felt volunteering would be a good way to give back and get involved in something that gave her passion. 

Volunteering During a Pandemic

Since Donna mainly works with Battalion Buddies, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way she volunteers. Pre-pandemic, corporations hosted Battalion Buddy stuffing events, and her specialty became quality controlling the completed bears. Donna ensured that every bear was soft and cuddly and ready to be shipped to military children. Battalion Buddies provide tangible comfort to children while their parents are deployed far from home.

“It’s important to give back and realize how fortunate we are,” said Donna. “There is a need in the world and volunteering gives us a purpose, especially during the pandemic. We get up in the morning and know we’re making an impact.”

When asked more about her volunteering experiences before the pandemic, Donna told me about the inspiring experience she had going down to San Diego for the new recruits’ graduation with Operation Gratitude. Leaving early, they drove down in one of the organization’s trucks with six fellow volunteers.

To Donna, “the women and men in the warehouse work incredibly hard and are a large reason why I continue to volunteer.” Her group came with Operation Gratitude care packages for the new recruits. Donna was warmed to see a young recruit in a wheelchair. The fact that there were no limitations or judgment held for anybody with a handicap stuck with her. 

Volunteering at Operation Gratitude

That experience tied into what she feels makes Operation Gratitude so special. She specifically loves that leaders CEO Kevin Schmiegel and COO Paul Cucinotta, along with the organization and its network of volunteers, as a whole, have the utmost respect for those with special needs.

“It’s a great feeling to come and volunteer because everyone is treated equally and with respect. Building relationships, particularly with those with special needs, feel equally as important as the mission itself.” 

At Operation Gratitude, it’s stressed that there is a place for everyone with a desire to make an impact. There is always a job, whether it’s dropping a letter into a care package or stuffing Battalion Buddies. Donna went on to say, “There are so many moving parts here. So many people and stories that you could reminisce all day. I always felt it was important to do something I’d be proud of, and Operation Gratitude spoke to me. I think it makes me more whole as a person.”

Donna views herself and those who usually work at the FOB as the continuation of Carolyn’s dream. If it wasn’t for people like Stacey Danlyan, Katrina Thomas, Lisa Gipti-Mojica, Will, and many more who all work in the warehouse, then it would be different. The tone is set the minute someone walks through the door. To Donna, it’s an extraordinary feeling to know you’re at home when you come to work.

I always felt it was important to do something I’d be proud of, and Operation Gratitude spoke to me. I think it makes me more whole as a person.

When asked what she would say to a prospective volunteer, Donna said, “I think [Operation Gratitude] speaks for itself. People can see the love, the generosity, the camaraderie; the heart behind the work. There are plenty of other things people could be doing in their lives, but the community brings people back.”

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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