Catastrophes and disasters can often bring out the best in people. That was plain to see this week as Operation Gratitude helped prepare hundreds of support packages to distribute to those affected by the horrendous destruction left by Hurricane Harvey in Texas.
There are more than 1,500 miles between Chatsworth, where Operation Gratitude is based, and Houston. But the hearts, prayers and good vibes of volunteers and staff at the organization best known for sending packages to troops oversees were definitely with the victims who lost homes, cars, and just about every other possession in the natural disaster.
“The message is, ‘Operation Gratitude stands ready to help all our fellow Americans,’” said Carolyn Blashek, founder and CEO of the nonprofit, while she and other volunteers placed candy and gum, talcum powder, wipes and other items in boxes to be sent to Texas.
Smaller packages in red bags emblazoned with the Operation Gratitude logo will also be sent to police officers, National Guard members and first responders in charge of the search and rescue operations.
“We’re always here to thank our first responders and those who put themselves in danger for our protection,” Blashek said.
Call for Help
Just before noon on Monday, Aug. 28, Angel Cuevas, vice president of operations, sent out an email blast asking for help to supporters, volunteers and every other contact in his inbox.
The response was immediate and, in his words, “tremendous.”
Since then Cuevas has been fielding calls, receiving emails and just watching “the endless generosity of the American public,” he said.
“People are saying ‘I’ve been looking for a way to help.’ It’s just a tremendous response from people who want to help,” Cuevas noted.
One volunteer was Olivia Martin from Northridge.
“I want to help make a difference and give my time in whatever they need,” the retiree said.
“It’s really important to send these packages. Just to show them somebody cares. It makes a difference. It shows you’re doing something for humanity.”
Nancy Commeville — who on Tuesday, Aug. 29, showed up to help along with a group of coworkers from the Kaiser Permanente offices in Burbank — echoed the sentiment.
“Everyone needs help and we should help those in need,” she said.
This is not the first time Operation Gratitude is aiding those affected by a natural disaster. It has sent packages to Colorado Springs, Colorado and Prescott, Arizona after devastating fires, and to Oklahoma following tornadoes, and many other places recovering from a catastrophic event.
“We do this every time there’s a natural disaster,” Cuevas said.
He said they try to provide whatever essential items they think might be needed. This time it’s hand and foot warmers — “We like to think ahead and with winter coming, people will need those” — dry socks and towels, diapers and wipes, children’s clothing, snack bars and jerky (who doesn’t want some?).
Things that one may take for granted become vital after a disaster.
Kimberly Potter, assistant director of operations, said they’ll add soap, dental kits and whatever else they already have in their warehouse that might be of help.
Delivering the Packages
They are collecting items, packaging them and “hopefully by Friday we can coordinate with a trucking company that can donate their truck to take it to Houston,” Cuevas said.
The idea is to take between 6 to 8 pallets (about 5,000 pounds worth of products) from the Operation Gratitude warehouse in Chatsworth to the trucking company warehouse in Houston. From there it will go to wherever the items are needed. Things are not set in stone. Now a tropical storm, Harvey continued pounding East Texas with rain this week.
“The final destination, we don’t know yet,” Cuevas said, as the San Fernando Valley Sun/El Sol went to print. “It’s a little hard to get to people with everything that’s going on.”
Next week officials plan to send care packages to First Responders and Search and Rescue Teams that have been working nonstop to save lives and help those in need.
Since its inception in 2003, Operation Gratitude has shipped more than 1,600,000 care packages, and hopes to reach the 2 million milestone this December.
Each year they send more than 200,000 care packages filled with food, entertainment, hygiene and handmade items, plus personal letters of appreciation to veterans, first responders, new recruits, Wounded Heroes, their caregivers, and individually named US military members deployed overseas and their families waiting at home.
Each package contains donated products valued from $45-100, and costs the organization $15 to assemble and ship.
If you want to lend a hand in this effort, you can drop off items or volunteer to sort and pack them today, Aug. 31, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Operation Gratitude is located at 21100 Lassen Street, Chatsworth, CA 91311.
You can also donate to the organization by visiting https://www.operationgratitude.com.