An effort that began with encouraging her work to volunteer has become an annual tradition of giving back for a Leechburg resident.
Brittany McLaughlin is organizing an initiative to collect thank you cards for service members for the California-based nonprofit Operation Gratitude. The nonprofit, founded in 2003, organizes care packages to send to deployed troops, veterans, first responders, injured heroes and caregivers, new service members and military families.
“I’ve always had great respect for military men and women,” she said. “I wanted to try something to make a difference.”
McLaughlin was gathering colleagues and community members to write thank you letters and cards and coloring book pages to send to Operation Gratitude for its care packages.
In her freshman year in 2018, she collected 48 letters and coloring pages. Over time, the drive has collected over 200 items. This year, she received 238 items, including coloring books, thank you cards, crafts with owls, knitted hats and hair rope bracelets.
McLaughlin begins posting on social media and distributing flyers about the initiative in June. She collected items throughout July before shipping them to California. She said she chose July because of Independence Day. The holiday is nestled between Memorial Day and Veterans Day, two other patriotic holidays where people think of the military, she said.
“It’s one thing to show your appreciation to someone you already know,” she said, “but it’s another to thank and thank someone you don’t know.”
McLaughlin said his biggest supporters are child care. She has also partnered with King’s Restaurant in Leechburg to receive coloring pages of children drawing on the menu.
Lisa Richards, owner of the Little Owls Learning Center and McLaughlin’s sister-in-law, has been on Operation Gratitude for all five years. She encourages 30 to 40 of her children to help her. Older kids are working on projects and babies are painting their feet for crafts, Richards said.
“It’s important for kids to get involved in the community and learn to give back and say thank you,” she said. “My grandfather is a veteran, and it means a lot to be involved in it.”
This year, the young people made red, white and blue owls that said “look who is thanking you”. Kids made heroes out of capes the year before, Richards said.
Children are very excited to give back to someone they may not know because they know the recipients will be thrilled to get it, she said. Richards plans to continue helping with Operation Gratitude as long as her sister does.
“I love being able to help,” she said. “We are part of several non-profit community organizations that help give back as much as possible to the community I grew up in.”