Senior Leads Annual Drive for Letters of Gratitude

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Senior Lea Baker wrote a letter to her boyfriend going through U.S. Army basic training every day of her freshman year. When he couldn’t receive mail, she wrote to other soldiers deployed overseas––and enlisted fellow Whitman students to help.

“The first year I did Letters of Gratitude it was kind of like a selfish act; it was like, I can’t write letters to him so I’m going to write letters to troops overseas,” said Baker, who started the project her sophomore year.

As part of the Letters of Gratitude campaign, Thetas have been tabling in Reid and encouraging passersby to contribute a message to U.S. troops overseas.  Thetas pictured are Cailtyn Yoshina (center), Emily Grossman (with blue scarf), and Andrea Horwege (far right).  Photos by Allie Felt.

With help from members of Kappa Alpha Theta, Baker is tabling in Reid every day through Nov. 16, inviting Whitties to pen a letter or two to a soldier stationed abroad.

Baker runs Letters of Gratitude through Operation Gratitude, a national nonprofit that sends an approximate 100,000 care packages a year to troops stationed overseas. Letters aren’t addressed to specific individuals but are distributed by the organization to where they’re needed. Letter writers are encouraged to include their email or mailing address for continued correspondence.

“The military has a good amount of guys straight out of high school, so it means a lot to them to get care packages and letters,” said Baker.

Baker says her ultimate goal is to bring in at least 500 letters, a goal she’s come closer to reaching each year.

“Usually we only table for a week. This year we’re tabling for two weeks, and I’m really hoping we’ll hit the 500 mark,” she said.

According to Baker, the Whitman community has been supportive of her endeavor, evidenced by the increasing number of letters written in each successive year. Some have approached her with stories of their own connections to the military.

“Every now and then someone will approach me and mention that they have a family member [in the military], or a family member who was in the military,” said Baker, adding that meeting such people has been relatively rare at Whitman. “The military doesn’t have a strong presence at Whitman, but being that Whitman is so aware of politics and national events, having Letters of Gratitude is relevant for the most part.”

In addition to support, she’s also received questions and concerns over the years. Some have declined to write letters for personal reasons, though nothing negative has been said about the campaign itself.

“I will have people kind of ask me about it, talk to me … Most people are pretty receptive,” she said. “I have had a couple people who were like, I really don’t want to write a letter to a soldier. It’s never offensive or anything, and it’s only happened once or twice.”

Operation Gratitude is an apolitical organization that discourages any mention of politics or controversy in the letters it sends to soldiers. For the most part, says Baker, politics are a non-issue for the project and students are happy to participate no matter their personal beliefs.

“Regardless of your political affiliation or how you feel about the war, it’s important to support our troops,” said sophomore participant Maria Ptucha.

Students who come from a tradition of supporting the military have been grateful to find a way to continue that at Whitman.

Emily Grossman (left) and Andrea Horwege

“This has actually been really important to me for a long time,” said first-year Emily Grossmann, who recalled visiting the Air Force base in Spokane and sending care packages with her Girl Scout troop.

Baker solicited help from all corners of the community, from Whitties studying abroad to local elementary school students. As in past years, letter-writing parties were held around campus––one in Prentiss Hall on Monday, Nov. 12, and one on Tuesday, Nov. 13 in Tamarac House.

Though she’s graduating this year, Baker hopes that Letters of Gratitude will continue to happen annually, especially given its increased participation this year.

“I’m really hoping it will become an annual thing that Theta will take over,” she said. “This is definitely the biggest year so far. I’m really hoping we’ll hit our goal.”

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