We’re handing this space to borough resident Angela Sielski, who penned a guest column about her efforts to collect extra Halloween candy as part of Operation Gratitude. Here’s Angela:
On November 1st, the excitement of Halloween is over, bits of costume are strewn all over the house, and that sugar crash has kicked in from overindulging the night before. The mound of candy remaining is overwhelming and usually winds up in your workplace or your bellies.
In 2014, after hearing many friends complain of so much left over candy, the question arose, “what can we do?” A discussion online referred me to Operation Gratitude, an organization that annually sends 150,000+ care packages filled with snacks, entertainment, hygiene and hand-made items — plus personal letters of appreciation — to new recruits, veterans, first responders, wounded warriors, care givers and to individually named U.S. service members deployed overseas.
With a 6-month-old baby and my husband, we put the word out that we’d collect any leftover candy from the community. Bags started showing up on our porch and a collection box was placed at local business, Marafiki Fair Trade. We were blown away to receive more than 100 lbs to ship over to Operation Gratitude. In the end, 10 large boxes were shipped out with letters of thanks tucked away in each one. Cash donations were collected from the public to cover the shipping costs and a tradition was launched.
In 2015, the word spread and with the help of two Metuchen businesses, What’s the Scoop on Main Street and Marafiki Fair Trade on New Street, we set up public drop-off boxes to collect candy.
This year, I knew we’d need help so I put out the call for volunteers to help sort, pack and ship in my home. The figures from this year’s collection were astounding.
Just as I was feeling overwhelmed, I received an email from a corporal in the U.S. Marines who thanked us for the package he received last year:
“I loved the care package you guys composed. It was amazing and it’s a great thought to know that people back home still think about the men and woman overseas. I appreciate the care package and everything you guys do. I thank you for your support. I hope your families and dogs are doing great. This care package really made my day if not my week. Thanks for all the support back home!”
This was the big push I needed to get it done. With seven local women late on a Friday night and another three helpers on a Sunday afternoon, we processed approximately 315 lbs of candy! I received hand-drawn thank you cards from a local daycare in the borough, Little Genius Academy, and directly from families to include with each package.
In total, 33 large boxes of candy were put together and sent out. Each box contained a letter explaining that it was all possible because a community came together for a great cause.
The donations to cover shipping costs kept coming in, even after we had met our initial goal of $521.40. I decided to do another round of shipments to Operation Gratitude with the surplus of donations we had received. This time, the goal was to share a few comforts of home during the holiday season. I was able to buy various toiletries, 80 pairs of hand warmers, 20 pairs of socks, wetnaps, pens, writing pads, a dozen decks of playing cards, and best of all, 12 individually-packed care packages which included everything from razors and shaving cream to mini packs of toilet paper and lip balms. Each care package also had a letter tucked away explaining a little bit about our family, Metuchen, and the grand effort of many to make it all possible.
Four more large boxes will leave our borough and make the journey cross-country to California and then overseas to brighten someone’s day. I was able to raise more than $825 to cover it all, a little bit at a time, from many families and individuals in our community.
I am truly humbled by this experience and the generosity of time and money from friends and neighbors here in Metuchen. Thank you everyone for helping me meet and exceed my 2015 goal. I look forward to what 2016 brings!
Special thank you to:
Candy sorters and packers:
Joanne Ouellet and her lovely daughter, Ada
Nancy Abrams Bernheimer and her husband, Joe
Lori Hughes Lindemann
Artwork & Thank you note contributors:
Torrie Flach Rathjen
Kristina Falconiere Rush who collected artwork from Little Genius Academy
Thank you to my 18-month old son for handing me items to pack in the care packages and especially my husband, Matt, who lets me take on these crazy projects in our living room!
Contributor Angela Sielski is a community organizer and resident of Metuchen