OI says “thank you” with care packages for troopsOct 26, 2020 02:36PM ● By Michael Melneck
Operation Interdependence is run entirely by volunteers like Alice Vaughn (left), Helen Sophocles (center) and even OI President Karon Carley (right)
Few of us take the opportunity to thank a service member or veteran for the sacrifices he or she has made to our country. But Operation Interdependence (OI) says “thank you” to thousands of service men and women every month with care packages sent to troops stationed around the world.
Handwritten notes and over 10,000 factory-wrapped items complement the volunteer-packed gift bags, which contain items such as playing cards, candy, travel toiletries, condiments, shampoo and toothpaste.
In 2019, the nonprofit shipped 1,145 boxes containing 53,625 care packages at a total cost of $34,695.50 (OI pays all postage).
OI was started in 2001 by a retired Marine in Fallbrook, California. He worked part-time in the Camp Pendleton mailroom, which was often bogged down, especially during the holidays. His solution? Larger boxes that could fit 25 care packages—enough for everyone in a unit without anyone being left out—sent to the troop’s commanders.
Today, Grand Valley resident Karon Carley oversees the national organization and the Colorado Chapter. She, along with her late husband, Al, have been involved with the volunteer-run organization since 2004.
Carley, 77, said 95 percent of OI volunteers are seniors who are retired or work part-time.
“OI has some 15-20 regular volunteers, though not all of them can attend every meeting,” she said.
In a typical month, Colorado chapter volunteers assemble and send about 2,500 care packages a year (70-145 boxes shipped). They also handwrite around the same number of notes every month.
These packages and notes from home are meant to make service members as comfortable as possible. In response to requests—which can be made on OI’s website—boxes have been shipped to South Korea, Japan, Guam, numerous African countries, Afghanistan, Iraq, Germany, Poland, Italy and more.
While OI typically focuses on sending smaller items, there is the occasional request for specifics. Recently, a quarantined group asked for shower shoes and Frisbees.
OI is not immune to the current economic downturn, but fortunately, their assembly space is donated, as is its product inventory. Hard expenses include insurance, utilities and that all-important postage, which can cost $3,000 a month.
To offset costs, Carley said she tries to host a fundraiser every month, which can take the form of gift shop sales, garage sales, craft shows, plays and themed dinners. Randy’s Southside Diner holds an annual fundraising dinner for OI and grant funding is also helpful. Businesses will also hold their own fundraisers to benefit OI with employee donations of money or products.
Write notes for OI
Another rewarding way community members show their appreciation is by helping write notes to the troops. Each note is sent to a specific service person or veteran. It’s even more special when the individual writes back!
There’s an abundance of work to do, and much of it can be done remotely. Visit www.oidelivers.org for a list of needed items and ways to get involved, or call Carley at 760-468-8001.