An effort that began in early January to present 30,000 New York Police Department officers and 9-1-1 dispatchers with care packages by the 20th anniversary of 9/11 has passed the halfway mark.
The effort, facilitated by Operation Gratitude and assisted by New York Legionnaires, hit more than 16,000 care packages distributed after a recent effort handed out 4,000. And more than 1,000 also recently were presented to U.S. servicemembers assisting COVID-19 vaccine efforts at the Javits Center in New York City.
Operation Gratitude is a national nonprofit that strives to build and strengthen the bonds between Americans, and members of the U.S. military and first responders through volunteer service projects, acts of gratitude and meaningful engagements in communities nationwide.
The American Legion was brought into the effort by NYPD Sgt. Wilem Wong, a 20-plus-year member and current executive committeeman at Lt. B.R. Kimlau Chinese Memorial Post 1291 who also is regularly active with New York City Police Post 460.
Wong, who will retire from the NYPD on Memorial Day, reached out to Post 460 to assist the effort; volunteers from the post have been assisting with assembling the care packages after the items in each are provided. Distributions are made monthly.
The care packages include a handmade paracord bracelet, Starbucks gift cards, hand sanitizer, jelly beans, lip repair or hand cream, beef jerky and other items.
Wong – who has spent more than 30 years in the U.S. Army Reserves, including as a combat medic, nurse and civil affairs officer, with deployments to both Iraq and Afghanistan – said when he first learned of the plan to distribute 30,000 care packages, he thought “it was going to be a monumental effort because this is a monthly event with a lot of logistics behind it.”
But to Wong, the effort put into such an initiative with Operation Gratitude is worth it. “This is part of increasing the morale of the (NYPD) … and the American public’s appreciation and gratitude to the first responders and health-care workers and military and veterans,” he said.
While Operation Gratitude started with a focus on the military, its efforts has expanded to first responders. The American Legion assisting the nonprofit’s efforts made sense to Wong.
“This was originally something Operation Gratitude did for veterans and military servicemembers. We said ‘well, this is a great fit,’” he said. “They happened to pivot to first responders and health-care workers. We said ‘we’ll pivot.’ And there are veterans in the NYPD. About 10 percent of the NYPD are veterans. This was a great fit.”