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CSX with Operation Gratitude (Cincinnati, OH) 2019

Wednesday, October 2: Travel Day

It was a nice, fall day in Boston when five of my teammates and I began our journey to Cincinnati, OH. Our first flight from Boston to Philadelphia was early in the morning so I met up with my team at the gate. With breakfast and coffee in hand, we were ready to go. The first flight from Boston to Philadelphia was the quickest flight I’ve ever been on! From Philadelphia, we boarded a small airplane and traveled to the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport (CVG). This can be a confusing airport for people traveling to Cincinnati since it is referred to as the Cincinnati airport but is actually located in Kentucky. Another fun fact, this airport serves residents of three different states: Kentucky, Ohio, and Indiana! Once we landed in Kentucky, we met up with Sam Sadlier, our Senior Project Manager, who works remotely out of Chicago. Hugh Harlow, another of our managers who works out of Sacramento, had a separate flight and met up with us later. Since Sam and Hugh aren’t based in Boston like the rest of the staff, we were excited for the opportunity to work with them.

Thursday, October 3: Prep Day #1

This trip was similar to an event we had in Nashville back in August. For context, our team sponsor, CSX, partners with another non-profit called Operation Gratitude (OG) to facilitate these events. Every year Operation Gratitude sends 300,000+ care packages to military members, their families, first responders, veterans, and many others to thank those that serve our country. Each care package contains snacks, hygiene products, handmade items, and personal letters of support. The August event was at the Music City Center in Nashville, TN, where 200 CSX volunteers and community members created 10,000 care packages. Less than two months later, the team and I had the opportunity to support another CSX/OG collaboration at the Great American Ballpark in Cincinnati. Because of our experience in Nashville, the team was able to prep efficiently. We quickly found our rhythm opening boxes, transferring items into bins, and collapsing boxes. With the help of our friends from CSX (Angela Costa and John Kitchens) and OG (Emily Pirman, Shereen Shariq and Luis Franco), we had a productive day that put us in a good position to finish prep on Friday. To top it all off, I was able to meet up with my best friend from college that night! We went to dinner at Condado Tacos, one of her favorite taco places in Cincinnati, and had a great time catching up! (P.S. If you’re in Cincinnati you should definitely go to Condado Tacos. It’s so good!)

Friday, October 4: Prep Day #2

To start the day, Hugh and Sam treated the team to a great breakfast at a local diner. After our delicious breakfast, we went straight to the ballpark to get everything ready for the big day! With the direction of Emily and Luis, the team and I unpacked the remaining items, set up the tables, and organized the pallets in preparation for the volunteers. By lunchtime, preparation for the event was done, this gave us the opportunity to visit the Cincinnati Zoo that afternoon. One of my favorite memories from our time there was racing on a little ropes course that was just above ground level. Brittany and I faced off  against Mas and Ben, and we won! After another tasty dinner as a team, we drove back to the hotel to get some rest before event day.

Three rows of tables with Operation Gratitude bins stacked on top. Each bin is filled with donated goods.
All the items are placed along the rows of tables to form assembly lines that volunteers walk through to create each individual care package.

Saturday, October 5: Event Day

After some final set up, which included balloon towers and bag toss, we were ready for the event and excited to get started. When the volunteers arrived, there was a quick opening ceremony and then it was time to start making care packages! Events like this always go by quickly because once it starts, you’re constantly moving and the hours fly by. It was fun to see all the volunteers get into a groove and their enthusiasm each time the care package count was announced was contagious. Throughout the event, I restocked bins with items needed in each assembly line. Around noon, everyone broke for lunch where they served bratwurst, bacon on a stick, desserts, and more. A member of Operation Gratitude read letters from soldiers thanking Operation Gratitude and their volunteers for their pouches. These were heartfelt stories that gave a glimpse into how impactful these events can be. Once all the volunteers had eaten, it was time to get back to work! By that afternoon, 125 CSX volunteers and members of the local community had created 10,000 care packages. About 2,000 of these care packages went to local Fire and Police Departments while the remaining 8,000 packages were sent to the military. It was another successful CSX/OG event, and it was a lot of fun to experience and work with Angela, John, Emily, Shereen, and Luis again! Once the clean-up was done and the care packages were ready to go to their respective locations, it was time to head out. Sam, Hugh, and the rest of my team went to the airport to catch their flights home. Since I requested to extend my trip, I spent the extra day with my friend from college and got to see my debate partner from high school who I hadn’t seen in over five years! That night, the three of us went out for dinner, went candlepin bowling (I won), and had a great time catching up. On Sunday morning, we had breakfast at a local diner and visited the farmer’s market. Before I knew it, it was time for me to head back to Boston. This was an unforgettable trip that was filled with great friends, partners, teammates, service, food, and many special memories!

Team Care Force wearing their gray Service Reserves shirts with two Care Force staff members.
Peep the great CSX hates that Angela gave us!

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