The Van Nuys Armory sits on the corner of Louise Avenue and Victory Boulevard. Many people drive by the armory, but few know what goes on inside.
Almost every weekend from September to June, volunteers line up and file into the armory to make care packages for troops stationed in bases at home and overseas.
But who is using the armory to help these volunteers make care packages?
Operation Gratitude is.
Operation Gratitude is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization that assembles care packages for troops at home and overseas. The packages are all assembled in the Van Nuys Armory in Van Nuys. The armory sends about 100,000 care packages a year and has sent a total of 762,523 packages according to their website.
Operation Gratitude needs many volunteers like Jack Levic, who has been volunteering for about seven years. Levic is part of Disney’s VoluntEARS program, which is a volunteer program sponsored by Disney.
Levic says that his favorite task is putting items in to the packages.
“It keeps me busy and I get to see different people,” Levic said.
I can hear you asking through the paper, “What’s in the packages?” I’ll tell you.
The packages often consist of a book or magazine, socks, toiletries, non-perishable snacks, cards, stationery, small games, and a Beanie Baby, among other things.
The Beanie Baby is just for fun, and sometimes the troops give them to the local children to help establish trust.
All the troops love the packages, as evidenced in their letters home.
“Thank you for your care package. Your selfless service and dedication to volunteer in order to support the soldiers down range is greatly appreciated. We truly appreciate all the support organizations like yours provide,” writes Sergeant First Class S.J. in a letter posted on the website.
Only the troops' initials are used for their safety.
“I wanted to thank you very much for the package of goodies. It definitely brought a big smile to my face when I opened it and realized who it was from. My fellow Marine and Sailors also received package from you guys and were very grateful. Thank you from the USS Makin Island! Oorah and Semper Fidelis,” says Lance Corporal E.H. in another letter.
But in order to get those packages out and those letters back, Operation Gratitude needs more than volunteers like Levic.
They need dedicated supervisors like Bob Donovan and Jack Knight.
During his two tours in Vietnam, Donovan realized the importance of packages, especially those from children.
“When you get something from a young person, it’s really powerful,” Donovan said.
Knight served in the military two years before Vietnam, and has been at Operation Gratitude since the first day.
During his service, Knight did what’s called the “gravy train,” which is just really easy work that doesn’t need much effort.
Knight says that he feels he has a debt to pay to those men and women who are out there now.
So what’s the best part about Operation Gratitude?
“Everyone is strangers when they come in, and they leave as a team,” says Dana Chotiner, a supervisor who works at the station where volunteers check in.
And that teamwork is something the troops both at home and overseas rely on greatly, for without that team work, Operation Gratitude might not be able to get out the number of packages that they do.
So, Operation Gratitude team, keep on trucking. Keep on trucking until every last serviceman and woman gets home.