All too often, I’ve heard people who have never volunteered with Operation Gratitude say that we “just send care packages.” As the CEO, it is my job to change that perception by demonstrating and communicating the true impact we make as an organization, so they ultimately join our movement, too.
Over the next several weeks, I will highlight each of our signature programs and share how our actions, as the nation’s preeminent organization for volunteerism in support of our military and first responders, made a difference in the lives of millions of Americans. At the end of this series of Weekly Briefings, my hope is you will feel the same way I do — that you’re part of an organization that is unique and like no other nonprofit in the country.
With the kick-off of our Halloween Candy Give-Back Program this week, I want to start by telling you about this one-of-a-kind program, which has been synonymous with Operation Gratitude since 2008. Last year alone more than 300,000 grateful Americans in 6,000+ community-based organizations donated 363,000 pounds of candy.
Our HCGB Program began as a way to say “thank you” to our Deployed Troops, but we learned it’s not just candy…it is a reminder to our servicemen and women that we appreciate their courage, commitment, and sacrifice. This is clear in the words of this Sailor who emailed us last year.
“Thank you and “the crew” for the wonderful package!!! I was not expecting to receive anything on this deployment, but once again the support back at home showed its face, and placed a huge smile on mine! So, thank you! I was speaking to a shipmate of mine about how I missed Halloween back at home (Halloween is my favorite holiday) and how each year I decorate my house for trick or treaters with a haunted house and maze. The package sent was full of candy that I can enjoy for months (of course I will share with everyone else and the OG magazine was also helpful. It just goes to show that we are not alone in this fight. Again thank you and everyone that helped make this possible!”
As the program grew and served more Deployed Troops, our team received email after email that demonstrated to all of us that it’s much more than just candy… it’s helping American forces build goodwill around the world. This is apparent in the words of a young Marine deployed to Afghanistan.
“I just wanted to say thank you for the care package. All of my squadmates and I really appreciate it! The candy we didn’t use ourselves was handed out to Afghani kids we see on our missions, and they are very grateful.”
Happy Holidays, PFC T.
It’s not just candy… it is the start of a conversation.
Some of the most memorable moments from the Halloween Candy Give-Back program come from our youngest donors, as it provides every child in America the opportunity to give back and learn about the important concept of “service.”
One such donor, Evie Darr (age 8) collected 300 pounds of candy in her community with the help of her karate club and delivered it to the police and fire departments in Fort Worth along with her parents and younger brother. In addition to meeting the police and fire chiefs, the Darr family toured the entire facility in a souped-up golf cart.
For Evie and her family, the opportunity to say “thank you for your service” in person was a life-changing experience. This simple act of kindness and gratitude was the start of a conversation that led to a meaningful connection. Their understanding of service and the bonds they formed that day inspired them to do more and led to them getting more people in their community involved.
I can say that because I saw it firsthand. I had the honor of joining Evie for this delivery to Fort Worth First Responders in November of 2018. What happened with the Darr family is not unique. I was also part of several more candy deliveries from Colorado Springs all the way to Herndon, Virginia. And the same occurred in dozens of other communities last year when hundreds of volunteers delivered 55,000 pounds of candy to 96 different First Responder, Military, and Veteran organizations in 30 states.
In every case, those volunteers left with a better understanding of service, and the First Responders carried on with renewed strength and feeling closer to the citizens they protect. In many cases, the volunteers were inspired to do more and give back in other tangible ways to those who serve, and the police and fire departments forged even stronger bonds, inviting the volunteers back for family days, back to school activities, and other community-building events.
It’s not just candy… it brings communities together
What I saw at those in-person deliveries was tremendous gratitude from both the donors and the recipients. I also saw connections being made in real-time, as they talked about local issues; shared stories about neighbors they had in common; and discovered that their children went to the same schools.
For the past two years, since we began direct deliveries to First Responders, we have made the same impact here at home as we did for Marines and Soldiers who handed candy out to children in places like Afghanistan and Africa.
One question often asked by our volunteers during these face to face interactions was: “what do you do with all that candy?” The answer was surprising to some — Police Officers, Firefighters, and EMTs give a vast majority of the candy to underprivileged youth in their communities — in neighborhoods where they can’t trick or treat because it’s unsafe or at after-school programs. We not only helped to unite and strengthen communities, but we also built goodwill.
I can say “it’s not just candy,” because I have seen it time and time again. Halloween candy not only helps to remind our Deployed Troops of our respect, appreciation, and support — it brings them feelings of joy and helps foster goodwill abroad, And it does the same for our First Responders at the local level by enabling meaningful connections and strengthening communities.
Imagine what could happen if we inspire a majority of the 6,000 community-based groups and 300,000 volunteers who participated in the Halloween Candy Give-Back program to follow the example of Evie Darr and her family. What impact would we make on communities like Fort Worth and our nation as a whole, if the same thing occurred in hundreds of cities across the country?
As the CEO, it is my responsibility to do everything I can to make that vision a reality. I promise you — I will.
To learn more about our Halloween Candy Give-Back program and to help us show it’s not just candy, go to our webpage and get involved in your community today.