Candy, toiletries, a note of thanks – these items that may seem small, could make a big impact in the life of a United States Armed Forces member. 

“The whole point of Operation Gratitude is to thank those who serve us 24/7 and are willing to put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms,” said Tracey Briggs, Blue Star Mother and Employee Wellness supervisor. “It’s always a very high level of wellness when you can say thank you to somebody else and outwardly express gratitude.”

UNM Employee Wellness is in the midst of their annual Operation Gratitude initiative. The goal is to gather as much leftover Halloween candy, hygiene products, letters and comfort items as possible through Nov. 7, 2018. The donations are then picked up by the local chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America.

“The collaboration is amazing,” said Vanessa Roybal, a health educator with Employee Wellness who helps organize the drive every year.” “Not just with the Blue Star Mothers, but between UNM departments as well – from the volunteers, to the UNM Mailing Systems who pick up all the donation boxes from around campus.”

The Blue Star Mothers, along with an army of volunteers, compile parcels and ship them to soldiers, airmen, marines and sailors deployed overseas. Many members of the Armed Forces spend the holiday season serving our country away from their families, and the care packages remind them that they are not alone, despite their distance from home.

“After 25 years of serving as an Army spouse, living all over the world and thinking about all the friends I have, and all the friends I’ve lost because of their service and sacrifice – this one outreach has so much meaning,” Briggs said. 

It’s not just soldiers who benefit from the care packages. While out on patrol or in a new place, members of the Armed Forces often hand out candy and stuffed animals to the children who are scared by the turmoil around them. It’s one more way of reaching out to those in war-torn countries who need to be comforted. On the home-front, the parcels are distributed to military families, first responders and veterans, as well as wounded heroes and their caregivers. 

Operation Gratitude came to UNM in 2013, and was initiated as a way for UNM staff, faculty and students to give back to the service members who lay their lives down every day. Since its inception, the donations have continued to climb – with a record 1058.1 pounds of candy gathered in 2015.

“We hope to shatter that this year,” Briggs said.

To sweeten the pot, Employee Wellness is offering prizes to the department that donates the most poundage of candy. Pet therapy sessions, massage sessions, guided meditations, and a healthy food demo are all up for grabs. UNM employees looking to get rid of the temptation of lingering Halloween candy should consider dropping it, along with any toiletries, cards and gifts, in any of the 31 drop-off sites across south, main and north campuses. Click here to see the full donation list

The drive is going on through Nov. 7, 2018. It is supported in part by the UNM Veterans Resource Center and Student Veterans of UNM.