Operation Gratitude is the nonprofit, volunteer-based organization that sends care packages and letters of support to U.S. Military deployed overseas. Its mission is to lift morale, put a smile on a service member's face and express the appreciation of the American people for the sacrifices of the men and women defending our freedom. To date, Operation Gratitude has sent over 545,000 care packages to individual Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines in combat.
After 9-11, founder Carolyn Blashek wanted to fight the war on terror. Although then a 46-year-old mother of two, her first thought was to join the Military. She quickly learned she was too old for duty and started volunteering at the military lounge at LAX airport. In March 2003, a soldier broke down at her desk. He was on leave from a war zone for his mother's funeral, his wife had left him and his only child died as an infant--he had no one else in his life. "I'm going back over there; I don't think I'll make it back this time, but it really doesn’t matter because no one would even care” he told her. Right then Blashek realized that when bullets are flying, it's critical for troops to know that someone cares about them as an individual. Operation Gratitude was born.
Blashek wanted to provide a personal and hands-on connection with our troops overseas. She asked everyone she met if they knew a deployed service member needing extra TLC so she could send them care packages and letters of encouragement from appreciative citizens. Now, Blashek is contacted by commanders in the field who see the positive impact of Operation Gratitude care packages on their troops in combat. This grassroots organization now encompasses churches, schools, businesses and service groups across the country donating items and writing letters to service members through Operation Gratitude. Since November 2003, Operation Gratitude has conducted its Assembly Drives in the Army National Guard Armory in Van Nuys, California.
Operation Gratitude is a 501(c)(3) organization. All financial donations are tax-deductible and used to pay the costs of communications and shipping. The overall cost per package is $15; postage cost alone averages $11. All items included in the packages are donated and are valued at ~$125 per package. More than 300 major corporations have donated products as Corporate Sponsors (donations of at least 10,000 items) or as Friends of Operation Gratitude (donations of 1,000 items or more). Operation Gratitude is honored to partner with the Philadelphia Sports Congress to collect items during the annual Army-Navy Football games at Lincoln Financial Field. Chrysler LLC, the Jeep Brand and Checkers/Rally’s have donated vehicles for three milestone packages to date. In January, 2008, at the invitation of the Commanding General, Blashek personally delivered the 300,000th package, containing the keys to a new Jeep Liberty, to a Soldier deployed in Iraq. Twin 500,000th packages, each containing keys to Harley Davidson motorcycles were delivered in Afghanistan.
First Lady Michelle Obama, Dr. Jill Biden and 25 members of Congress and the Obama Administration joined 12,000 Operation Gratitude volunteers on the National Day of Service, January 19, 2009 to assemble 85,000 care kits for Operation Gratitude care packages. President and Mrs. Bush invited Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, to the White House on March 10, 2006 and on December 18, 2006 to thank her and the organization for their invaluable support of the U.S. Military. Several celebrities and sports figures have volunteered at the armory. Operation Gratitude has been featured widely in the tv, radio and print media.
The organization, now with 8000+ local volunteers and tens of thousands of supporters across the country, holds both a Patriotic Drive (during Military Appreciation Month in May) and a Holiday Drive (October-December) each year, and anticipates sending at least 100,000 packages per year. The organization’s leadership remains on a volunteer basis.
The benefits of the Operation Gratitude program can be found in the Mail Call section of the Operation Gratitude website, www.OperationGratitude.com which displays thousands of letters from troops that have received the care packages. General Ray Odierno, Commanding, wrote in response to receiving his own care package from Operation Gratitude:
“I would like to thank you not only for the package I received from OPERATION GRATITUDE, but also for all you do for each one of the dedicated men and women who serve our great Nation. I am truly humbled by the support you, your volunteers, and your generous sponsors have shown those who sacrifice so much for our country. Though our Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Marines may protect our freedom, its people like all of you that give them the extra motivation to do the incredible job they do every day. Thank you once again, and God bless you all.”