Operation Gratitude Touches the Lives of Millions of Service Members, First Responders, Veterans & Volunteers
It was after the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in the United States. First responders and deployed military members were putting their lives on the line to defend our country and Carolyn Blashek wanted to support them. What could one woman, a fulltime mother, do to make a difference? It turns out, a whole lot.
Operation Gratitude began in Carolyn’s living room in 2003. In the first six months she sent out 650 care packages by herself. Then she began to recruit help. Almost 20 years later, this grassroots movement has distributed over 3.5 million care packages around the world. The organization’s reach has expanded from deployed military and first responders to include veterans, military families, boot camp graduates and wounded heroes and their caregivers.
“I really wasn’t thinking about starting an organization. I was just wanting to send care packages as my way of saying ‘thank you’ on just a very personal level,” Blashek shared. “By opening this up and welcoming in others to help me and to become the engine of it all, doing something in numbers more than geometrically increases the output. With the millions of Americans who participated, we were able to really accomplish amazing things.”
From the beginning the care packages struck a chord, with the organization receiving letters of gratitude from service personnel recounting how much receiving them meant. One staff sergeant wrote to share the lifesaving effect it had for a serviceman.
“They found out that he had been contemplating suicide on Christmas Eve one year, and our packages all arrived that night,” Blashek recounted. “There were letters in them from total strangers who just were thanking him and saying how much they appreciated what this service member was doing. The package was addressed to him by name, so he felt it very personally.
“In reading those letters, that service member realized, ‘Wait, there is hope and there is reason for what I’m doing, and people do recognize and acknowledge me.’ And it saved his life.” The man sought help from the chaplain and a year later had been promoted and gotten engaged.”
But the appreciation wasn’t just one way. Blashek got to witness the loop of gratitude the organization created through the care package assembly events they had early on. At the end of the day she stood by the door to thank the volunteers who had given their time assembling packages.
“I would try to shake their hands, thank them for being there and helping us out. And every single person would say, ‘No, no, no, no. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.’ And it was such a powerful moment for me to understand that this really was something much bigger… It wasn’t just about saying thank you to the troops, it was also about providing the opportunity for our volunteers to express their gratitude.”
Blashek now serves as a senior advisor for the organization she founded nearly 20 years ago. As a daughter, wife, mother, and grandmother, her life is full of reasons to be grateful.
“What is gratitude? I think it’s a very, very deep sense of appreciation for what we have, what we are able to do, for the freedoms that we have,” reflected Blashek. “I think it’s combined with a real humility and a faith to recognize that all that we have and all that we can do and all the freedom we have are gifts from others. Whether it’s from other people, whether it’s from something from above, whatever people’s beliefs are in that regard.
“It’s a very humbling feeling that I think is critical to having a much fuller life and to help us understand that we’re just a small part of a much greater world and we need to appreciate all that we’re given from it.”
Visit OperationGratitude.com to find out ways to donate, volunteer or to request care packages.