In supporting our troops, we give customers the same opportunity

On Memorial Day in 2005 my fiancé, Judy, heard talk show host Dennis Prager talk about Operation Gratitude. Volunteers were invited to the Van Nuys, CA National Guard Armory to pack boxes of items to send to our deployed troops.

The purpose was not only to send hard-to-get food items, personal items, batteries, stationary, DVDs or video games, but to allow those of us at home to express our gratitude and to show support for the men and women who protect our country and our freedom.

Judy said it was the highest energy, most rewarding work she had ever done. The next day I joined her. Nine years later we both still volunteer as supervisors for Operation Gratitude, doing whatever it takes to show support for our deployed troops stationed all over the world.

I began as a dumpster supervisor (there’s a lot of cardboard generated from opening items to fill 20,000-plus boxes each weekend). I was certified to run a forklift and move hundreds of pallets of product into the Armory for assembling the packages and for loading 1,000 boxes each hour into the postal trucks that get them on their way. I’ve become a jack-of-all trades over the years being anywhere and doing anything when muscle’s needed.

My 22-foot Mac Tools truck has served Operation Gratitude when large amounts of donated items needed to be transported to the Armory.

I once moved 7,500 packages of Ramen noodles, 750 pounds of hard candy and 4,000 beanie babies. (Why Beanie Babies? They stay with the recipient, are given to a local child in friendship, or get sent home. A small stuffed flamingo can be a bright spot on a dusty bunk.)

 

Packages get addressed

The amazing thing about OPGRAT packages is that they are addressed to individually named recipients. Items are traded among the troops or shared with the locals in friendship. In summer, there are cool ties and baseball caps. In winter, a handmade scarf gets sent in each box. The seasonal boxes switch from powdered lemonade to hot chocolate. From wet wipes to hand warmers.

After Halloween, the candy drive has yielded 230 tons of candy! Girl Scouts donate 100,000 boxes of cookies each year.

My involvement with Operation Gratitude and its infectious good feelings have spilled over from my truck to my customers. I speak often of how Operation Gratitude sends goodwill to our men and women who serve and how it puts smiles on their faces.

I’ve posted pictures of the mayhem on shipping days, the happy and emotional letters of appreciation from Iraq, Afghanistan, and ships at sea.

I’ve taken donations from customers (so necessary since each box is $15 to ship) and received their donated items to put in the boxes.

 

Customers get involved

My customers have solicited written letters from their families, churches or kids’ schools. Each one of the 100,000 yearly boxes holds a handwritten letter. It’s one of the most coveted and appreciated items in the box.

Anyone over the age of 12 is welcome. Customers with children who are Boy Scouts or Girl Scouts arrive to earn badges for volunteering or to earn community service hours. They often enjoy it so much they become regulars, as do their parents.

I’ve been given relatives’ names to send packages to and heard from customers who knew of someone who received an Operation Gratitude box or got one themselves while in the military. I learned a lot about my customers’ deployments. I had no idea how many heroes are on my route.

Operation Gratitude just sent its one-millionth package. Although others think the need is dwindling and that the deployed soldiers are coming home ... not so.

As long as there are men and women away from their homes, giving of their time and sometimes their lives, I will be there doing what is needed.

I’ll be talking about it at my stops and explaining the pictures and letters posted in my truck.

I take pride in my work as a Mac Tools distributor and immense pride in my country. They go hand in hand.

 

Bill Kaser is a Mac Tools distributor based in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

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