On a bright Saturday morning in December as the Santa Ana winds kicked up, a group of UCSD Alumni from the Los Angeles chapter met in front of a warehouse in the San Fernando Valley. Neither the raging wildfires in surrounding areas nor the prospect of sleeping in on the weekend could deter them from coming. They packed themselves in the warehouse and under the makeshift canopies propped up outside to take part in Operation Gratitude, an initiative to thank American soldiers working overseas with hand-packed CARE packages.
With the event marking the organizations two-millionth package sent to troops, the warehouse began buzzing with a myriad of work stations: a letter and card writing area, a parachord bracelet weaving station, care package assembly and a station for making teddy bears, or “Battalion Buddies,” to be given to children of deploying service members. Volunteers stuffed packages with holiday stockings and stocking stuffers, hand-knit scarves, puzzle books, movie memorabilia, and a collection of letters and cards written by students from grade schools and colleges from all over the U.S. Volunteers recharged with an assortment of homemade cookies and water. Volunteers can even see how far their efforts have gone, by signing up on the Operation Gratitude website to connect with Care Package recipients.
Not all the packaged items are for the soldiers, however. Much of the candy and stuffed Beanie Baby toys are given to by soldiers to local children overseas, to establish a positive rapport in the neighborhoods they patrol. I learned from a fellow volunteer that in one instance, a child informed a service member where an IED (Improvised Explosive Device) was located, one of the many hazards for soldiers overseas.
Volunteering as an alum means more than just reconnecting with fellow Tritons. It means being part of an altruistic community that supports and champions philanthropic causes. Or in this case, cause and country.