In the Foothills Congregational Church Parish Hall, volunteers meet to stuff plastic bags with food and hygiene items in makeshift assembly lines. The care packages, topped off with handwritten notes, will go to deployed U.S. military service members in Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflict regions.
"I hope (when they receive our packages) they’ll think people back home are thinking of them, and I hope it’ll make their days just a little more cheerful," said Kathryn Spitzer Kim, a volunteer at Foothills Congregational Church’s recent Operation: Care and Comfort (OCC) care package event.
The completed care packages are expected to reach deployed units by Thanksgiving. In addition to basic food items and crossword puzzles, volunteers composed handwritten notes to the deployed soldiers, thanking them for their time and service to the country.
"The letters are some of the most meaningful things they get, and some of them carry (the letters) around during their deployment," said OCC key volunteer Rachel Lambert, a longtime church member and the coordinator of the event. "If (the letter) really struck them, they’ll carry it with them until it looks like shredded paper, because they just read it over and over again. The feeling that somebody that they don’t even know cares and wants them to be safe (is) really meaningful, especially if they don’t have a family."
Marilyn DeGrasse said she volunteers at such events because she enjoys giving back to the community while spending time with friends. Spitzer Kim emphasized that donating one’s time is just as important as monetary donations when helping others.
As part of Los Altos Compassion Week, volunteers participated in the sixth annual letter-writing event, among eight other military-related projects. The projects will reach more than 1,000 troops and veterans with the help of 150-200 volunteers, according to Compassion Week co-chairwoman Jan McDaniel.
"I think it’s very easy in a place like Los Altos, where we have a lot of money and a lot of wealth, to go out (and buy a) sweater. … That’s not hard to do," she said. "What’s hard to do is give up your time. That’s (what) Compassion Week is about: (getting outside) of your comfort zone."
Several of these smaller events are made possible with help from established nonprofit organizations such as OCC and Operation Gratitude, dedicated to serving troops abroad and veterans at home. Operation Gratitude enables Americans to express their appreciation to deployed troops and veterans through collection drives, letter-writing campaigns, care packages and financial donations, according to its website. As of October, Operation Gratitude had shipped more than 2.3 million care packages since 2003, the site said.
Likewise, OCC is volunteer-run. Based in San Jose, it aims to serve troops, veterans and military families through care package events, the OCC Tickets for Troops program and the OCC Adopt a Military Family Program. The nonprofit agency ships out more than 100 care package boxes per month, each filled with donations of hygiene products, food and other basic amenities.
Veteran Frank Keffer was among the first to receive OCC care packages while he served in Iraq in 2003 and 2004.
"(Receiving care packages) is like Christmas; you look forward to the mail each day," said Keffer, who became OCC vice president in 2010. "People are taking the time out (of their days) to give to us … and we know how important time is for people. … So (care packages) mean a big deal."
OCC’s annual Holiday Care Package Event took place Oct. 27 at Avaya Stadium in San Jose. More than 150 volunteers were expected to congregate to assemble care packages for deployed troops just in time for their winter holidays.
"People tend to during (the holidays), especially Christmas, think more of the troops … because it’s that time of the year," Keffer said, "whereas Operation: Care and Comfort - and I think that’s what sets us apart from other groups doing care packages - ships every single month."
To continue shipping packages each month, OCC key volunteers meet every Tuesday in San Jose to assemble smaller packages and organize donations.
For more information on Operation Gratitude, visit operationgratitude.com.