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June 19, 2006

Operation Gratitude

On Sunday, Father's Day, I drove over to the National Guard Armory in Van Nuys to see for myself how one lady with a goal and a little determination can make a whole lot of good come about in this world. And of course, the very fact that she's from the Valley -- Encino! -- didn't hurt any.

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Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude (and Valley Girl!!)


Carolyn Blashek is a fiftysomething mother of two from Encino (unlike me, one can assume she is not merely Encino-adjacent) and she created the nonprofit, all-volunteer movement called "Operation Gratitude." This past Sunday I saw with my very own eyes how one tiny woman with a personal mission could move mountains ... mountains of boxes!

Folks from all over come together to donate their time and money to build individual care packages for soldiers serving overseas. No matter what your politics are, the beauty of Operation Gratitude is that this is the sort of cause everyone can support. Those kids out in the desert are from my hometown and yours, and every morning they get up and wear some totally unflattering shade of camo and do a job a million miles away from home. A box with some girl scout cookies and a beanie baby and some snacks, magazines and DVDs could make someone's day, month, year. It's the very best of us, this desire to give to a complete stranger, the need to let someone know they aren't all alone in a desert while we go on about our day-to-day lives in relative safety and calm. This is the thing I love about people, the generosity of spirit that sometimes just needs an outlet. Carolyn created an outlet for giving right in her own living room, and now it's grown to take over the Armory!

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Volunteers build a mountain of boxes waiting to be filled for soldiers overseas.


I got to meet Carolyn and ask her about the organization and her inspiration for Operation Gratitude. "Right after 9-11 happened," she said, "I wanted to join the military. I tried, but I was too old. So I started volunteering, and before long I met a soldier who was heading back into the war zone. His mother had just passed away, his wife had left him and his only child had died. He told me, 'I'm going back over there, I probably won't make it back. But it doesn't matter, because I don't have anyone anyway. There's no one.' "

And that was it. That was the moment she decided to make a difference, to let a soldier know that there are folks back home who care, and Operation Gratitude was born. That was over three years ago, and this past weekend, the group sealed up the 150,000th box! I was completely overwhelmed by what I saw, folks in every age range filling and stuffing and sealing and packing boxes.

[click for bigger images]


For the winter drive that starts in a few months, we'll have to figure out what we can collectively knit for the care packages. I know the power of knitters, ya'll ... we could have more handknit goods in Iraq than anywhere on earth if we put our minds (and Addis) to it. In the meantime, if you'd like to help, visit their website for a list of ways individuals can contribute.

Posted by laurie at June 19, 2006 11:01 AM