Van Nuys, Calif. — Carolyn Blashek is constantly sending her gratitude to the men and women serving in the military overseas. Blashek founded Operation Gratitude after she tried to join the military, but was told she was too old. Her goal: to show people in the service that they have not been forgotten back home by sending personal care packages directly to members of the United States armed services all over the world.
The care packages include a variety of items from sunscreen to socks, candy to toothpaste. But, you may be surprised to know what the most important item is in the box: a Beanie Baby. That's right. These seemingly unsubstantial stuffed animals that were popular in the 90s, help save lives. Blashek tells me that the soldiers give the stuffed animals to the local kids in Iraq; the kids, in return, tell the soldiers the location of hidden IEDs or Improvised Explosive Devices. The fact that such a small gesture can keep our troops safe in the Middle East not only shocked me, but touched my heart as well. Considering the violence these children face each day, it is nice to know that a small toy impresses them.
The assembly line at the warehouse in Van Nuys, Calif., is full of touching stories as well. Literally, hundreds of volunteers show up to pack boxes, all helping to form a long assembly line: the box, unassembled, starts in one corner of the room and, in under ten minutes, ends up filled all the way at the other of the room, complete with a personal note from a boy or girl scout. Many of the volunteers come to help just because they care; others have a much closer tie to the war.
At the end of the assembly line stands Sue Pollard. She's a gold star mom, which means she lost a child in the war. Her son, Justin, was killed by friendly fire over three years ago in Iraq. When I found out all that she had been through, I could hardly believe she wants to be involved with an organization that reminds her of her son's death. But Sue is full of verve, more motivated than most volunteers in the room. "I do it to keep his name and all the other service men's name alive who have fought so diligently to keep us safe here at home," Pollard adds as she tells us about her son. Hours later, sitting in the satellite truck to cut our piece, Anita Vogel, my correspondent, and I agree on one thing: If you are ever having a bad day at work or in your personal life, think about Sue Pollard. She has lost someone who is most precious to her and she still finds the fortitude to help others.
Operation Gratitude isn't done yet. The group is packing boxes until July 4 and accepts donations year round. Since we were there, they have filled thousands of boxes. This weekend, they will have a ceremony where they celebrate getting 250,000 packages out the door.
For more information about Operation Gratitude, click here.
Lindsay Stewart produces political stories in the western United States. She started at Fox in 2004 as a general assignment producer. Before coming to Fox, she produced Special Projects and Investigative pieces in the Los Angeles and Las Vegas television markets. In addition to covering politics, she values her time covering Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, and loves putting together visually interesting profile pieces like Bob Barker's last day on the Price is Right.