At the DC Armory, a nonprofit and volunteers got to work creating 10,000 care packages to distribute to dozens of police, fire and EMS agencies across the country.
Volunteers from Operation Gratitude worked on Sunday with the efficiency of an assembly line. They packed toiletries, snacks, instant coffee — items that may be available at the nearest convenience store, but which, for a deployed soldier or firefighter spending days away from the conveniences of home life, end up being a godsend.
The project began 19 years ago when the woman who would create the group met a distraught soldier at an airport.
“[It] it felt like no one cared that they were serving, that they were going to war,” said James Johnson, now CEO of the nonprofit born out of that chance encounter. “And so what started with four care packages that she sent out because of this event has grown to 3.5 million care packages since then.”
And they don’t just include the necessities. Each packet contains a handwritten message, a correspondence between strangers that can touch a weary soul.
“It’s just like, ‘Thank you’ and making sure they feel like what they’re doing matters,” said volunteer Stella Randall.
The effort is led by volunteers who, in addition to wrapping the care packages, also make wristbands for the recipients. They’re made of parachute cord, and field reports say they’re good for more than decoration.
“They used them to tie up a vehicle or a tourniquet, or whatever they needed,” Johnson said.
Last year, the group sent 250,000 care packages.
“It was really important for us to help out in any way we could,” Randall said.