King Day of Service Draws Record Volunteer Turnout

Odell B. Ruffin | 1/21/2009, 3:17 p.m.

Michelle Obama led thousands of enthusiastic volunteers at RFK Stadium to participate in €A Day of Service for the Military€ to commemorate the Martin Luther King Jr. Day of Service on Mon., Jan 19. A group of volunteers gathered and created 75,000 care packages to send to U.S. troops. The volunteers included Attorney General nominee Eric Holder, and District Mayor Adrian Fenty.
€It is an honor and a privilege to bring together volunteers from across the nation to serve our troops while commemorating the life of and work of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.,€ Fenty said. €In making these care packages today, we celebrate the spirit of public service and remind those who sacrificed the most that they are in our thoughts and hearts.€

The care packages included foot cream, toothpaste, toothbrushes, energy drinks, phone cards, sunscreen and personalized greeting cards. The Target Corporation, which has 1,684 stores in 48 states, was a key partner in donating supplies.

€As a U.S. service member who recently served in Iraq, I know that these care packages are extremely meaningful, particularly when you are serving overseas and are thousands of miles from home,€ said Staff Sergeant Ericka Castro. €Care packages made me feel better physically and emotionally when I was in Iraq, because it was a reminder that my service was valued and people back home thought of me.€

Operation Gratitude is a California-based 501-C non-profit volunteer organization that annually sends 100,000 care packages of snacks, entertainment items and personal letters of appreciation addressed to individually named U.S. service members deployed in hostile regions.

€When members of the military open our care packages, they will find all sorts of fun and useful items,€ said Carolyn Blashek, founder of Operation Gratitude. €But my hope is that they will also feel all the love, respect and appreciation of American people who assembled those packages during today€s €Day of Service for the Military.€€

Community and nonprofit groups across the country turned out out in large numbers and responded with enthusiasm to the national call to service. A wide variety of projects included delivering meals, refurbishing schools and community centers, collecting food and clothing.

€Target is honored to partner with Mayor Fenty, serve D.C. Operation Gratitude and the generous people around the country,€ said Laysha Ward, president of community relations at Target.

€It€s our opportunity to say thank you.€
Odell B. Ruffin can be reached at oruffin@washingtoninformer.com.