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Operation Gratitude creator gets Jefferson Award

March 9, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
What started as a few care packages in one women's living room has blossomed into a national effort to bring smiles to troops' faces.

"It's taking them out of the environment they're in that is very hostile and very violent, and putting them somewhere soft and peaceful and comfortable again," said Carolyn Blashek of Operation Gratitude.

Blashek wanted to join the military after Sept. 11. Instead she found a cause that allows supporters from all over the country to volunteer and donate the items that give service members a little piece of home.

"Whenever you would go to the mail room and there would be a big package for you instead of just an envelope is always exciting," said U.S. Army Specialist Stephen Buelher. "It's like Christmas."

Volunteer Joan Hahn nominated Blashek for the Jefferson Award after seeing the difference one person could make in the lives of so many. The operation has now sent out 760,000 care packages.

"She has a big smile on her face, she's very encouraging to people, she's obviously devoted to what's going on here," Hahn said.

The hundreds of boxes are often filled with personal items, toiletries and entertainment items. But they also have a program called Battalion Buddies that go to children of the service members here in the U.S.

"Ultimately it's really a tribute to our troops because they're the ones who inspire me personally and inspire all of us to do things beyond ourselves," Blashek said.

What has been seven years of tribute to the troops is what sparked the Jefferson Award's tribute to Blashek.