By JAN NORMAN
2009-01-11 03:00:00 - Orange County Register


Irvine resident Katherine Edmond, 14, carefully decorated the folded red construction paper, then started to print inside, "Dear Marine…."

In an adjacent room, Sarah Sullivan, 14, of Tustin grabbed two Priority Mail boxes and proceeded through a line adding magazines, Raman Noodles, lip balm and a toy. Through an open window, Staff Sgt. David Dobson of San Jose gave 50 teenage girls a booming sample of a boot camp drill. "You in the black shirt, you think this is funny? It's not!" he trumpeted.

It was all part of the second annual Operation Valentine in which more than 700 members of 13 Orange County chapters of National Charity League on Sunday at Camp Pendleton made thank-you cards and packed gift boxes for 1,200 members of the First Marine Battalion currently in Iraq. They even had time to prepare some welcome-home packs of Oakley caps and shirts for several hundred Marines who would arrive back from overseas that night. And 1,200 gift cards were given to Camp Pendleton to give to Marine families.

National Charity League is a mother-daughter volunteer organization that supports local nonprofits while developing leadership skills. The chapters spent three months collecting and packaging magazines, food, white socks, hand wipes, razors and other small disposable items, said Janet Wang, co-chairwoman of the event.

The gifts are items most requested by Marines in Iraq and Afghanistan, where they don't have easy access to shops or lockers. The months of preparation created an efficient packing process that would make a Marine commander proud. The 7th- through 12th-grade girls rotated in half-hour shifts to assure that approximately 2,800 cards were made in one room, boxes packed in a second room, then sealed and ready to ship in a third.

The packing room was like a waiting line for a Disney ride. Girls walked slowly up one aisle and down the next, filling two boxes each. "We wanted an event where the girls could participate and accomplish something that was larger than themselves or their chapters," said co-chairwoman Susan Sullivan, Sarah's mom.

Sarah Sullivan, busily filling boxes, said, "I like this (charity event) because it's really hands on. We have Marines here, and you can see the impact it has on them."

She put a small stuffed bear in one box. "They like to give them to the children over there," she explained.
Staff Sgt. Eli Aldrade, one of the Marines who spent their day off helping Operation Valentine, echoed Sarah Sullivan's comment as he prepared the girls for Dobson's mock drill. "You have no idea what it means to us to get one of these packages. We're out in the field and haven't had a shower for three weeks, and this package arrives with clean wipes. It really assures us someone cares."

Inside, Edmond finished her note. "They're being so brave out there. They get to open up these packages from us, and I know somebody will get this note. It's cool."