In 2005, Jaime Castillo, now 27, was in Iraq. Castillo was stationed there for 18 months.
The biology major said he recalls being stressed and feeling better when he received a package from a stranger.
“It’s really a nice thing to get,” Castillo said. “When I got the package it was something that made me happy. When everyone gets it, it makes them happy. You look through it, you get a huge palette of gifts. And everyone gets one, everyone can talk about it.”
The package filled with toiletry items he received was from Operation Gratitude, a non-profit organization. Volunteers for the organization collect toiletry items, donations and letters to send troops overseas.
Castillo said he didn’t really use everything from his packet. He mostly used the toothpaste and powdered drinks but said he kept the packet as a memento that “stuck with him.”
Now, as part of a group of five students who call themselves Army 5, Castillo is helping collect items to send to troops.
The collection took place near Sierra Tower on March 23 and 24.
Kari Finnegan, 21, one of the members, said the students are also doing the collection for their class project for their COMS 323 Group Communication class.
Finnegan said they found out about Operation Gratitude from Castillo, the only male in the group.
“He was actually over in Iraq and he got a packet from Operation Gratitude,” Finnegan said.
Finnegan along with another group member, Miya Dymally, 26, said that although the drive has ended there would be boxes labeled Operation Gratitude in Manzanita Hall for students to drop off their last-minute donations until April 17-18.
Finnegan said they are collecting any type of toiletry such as gum, lip balm, bandanas, toothbrush kits and sunscreen as well as novelty items.
Dymally said single-serve on-the-go packets such as Crystal Light and Tang are “highly requested” because troops usually don’t get the opportunity to have something like that everyday.
Finnegan and Dymally said they knew what items to put on their flyer from a wish list posted on the Operation Gratitude Web site. Some of the items listed included: CDs, DVDs, trail mix, beef jerky, sunflower seeds, travel-size board games and Beanie Babies.
“They (the troops) want the Beanie Babies to hand them out to the children in Iraq,” Finnegan said.
Dymally and Finnegan said items like chocolate and canned foods are not accepted.
“Chocolate isn’t accepted because it will melt,” Finnegan said.
Canned foods aren’t accepted because of the fear of them bursting open and spilling, Finnegan said.
Also, canned foods are too large of a donation to fit in the care packets that are put together by volunteers, Dymally said.
“Keep in mind that the care packages are as big as a cosmetic bag, a toiletry bag,” Dymally said.
Dymally said even though canned foods aren’t accepted, food such as the ready-to-eat Bumble Bee Tuna Salad kits are gladly welcomed.
Finnegan said the message they also want to convey is that if money to buy some of these things does not fit in someone’s budget, writing a letter is “appreciated” as well.
“We would really appreciate people writing letters if they wanted to,” Dymally said. “We’re happy to take letters to add them to a box. So they can open it up and have a personalized letter.”
Finnegan said after hearing about Castillo’s experience with Operation Gratitude, the group decided they wanted to show how inspired they were to show the troops that someone out there still cares.
“…It was kinda inspirational for us to do this, to help other people. It’s just something to show the troops we remember them still,” Finnegan said. “Even though there’s all this stuff going on in the world…we’re not forgetting about them.”
Castillo said he has been involved in other collections like Operation Hope, but this one is to reacquaint people with the fact that we shouldn’t forget about our troops.
“(We want) to use this one to raise a little awareness on something that really shouldn’t be forgotten,” Castillo said. “It brings me back to the time when I was stressed out and I got a package from nobody and it was a cute message inside saying ‘From us to you. Keep up the good work’. So it’s personal, a little personal.”