Operation Gratitude: Volunteers Create Care Packages for Soldiers, First Responders at DC Armory

Last year the group sent out 250,000 care packages. 

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At the D.C. Armory, a nonprofit organization and volunteers got to work creating 10,000 care packages to be distributed to dozens of police, fire and EMS agencies nationwide.

Volunteers with Operation Gratitude worked with assembly-line efficiency Sunday. They bagged up toiletries, snacks, instant coffee - items that may be available at the closest convenience store, but that for a deployed soldier or firefighter who spends days away from home life’s conveniences, end up being a godsend. 

The project started 19 years ago when the woman who would go on to start the group met a distraught soldier in an airport.

“[It] felt like nobody cared about the fact that they were serving, going off to war,” James Johnson, now the CEO of the nonprofit that grew out of that chance encounter, said. “And so what started with four care packages that she sent because of that event has grown to 3.5 million care packages since then.”

And they don’t just include the necessities. Each package has a handwritten message, a correspondence among strangers that can touch a weary soul.

“It’s just like, ‘Thank you,’ and making sure they feel that what they’re doing matters,” volunteer Stella Randall said. 

The effort is driven by volunteers, who besides boxing up the care packages also make bracelets for the recipients. They’re made of parachute cord, and reports back from the field say they’re good for more than adornment.

“They’ve used them to tie down a vehicle or a tourniquet, or whatever they needed,” Johnson said. 

Last year the group sent out 250,000 care packages. 

“It was really important for us to help in any way that we could,” Randall said.

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