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Sunday, May 28, 2006

Troops Find Gratitude, Entertainment at Indianapolis 500

Kissing the bricks an Indy 500 tradition
Photo by Samantha L. Quigley

I'm going to stop in at my local Checkers Restaurant this weekend. I seldom eat fast food these days since I've started an effort at getting back in shape. But I've been good so a visit to Checkers will be nice. That's not the reason I'm going though.

The fourth annual Checkers/Rally's Indy 500 Pit Stop Challenge was host to about two dozen sevicemembers who were brought there by Checkers as part of their involvement in Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends packages to troops. The company joined the group as a corporate team member last year.

In addition to hosting the servicemembers, Checkers/Rally's used its track-based food stands to collect support messages on "Thanks to the Troops" post cards. The company expects at least 10,000 cards to be signed this weekend. They are part of Operation Gratitude's Patriotic Drive to collect personal, convenience and snack items, and personal notes for packages for troops serving overseas.

"People think it's really great that we're (collecting messages). They really appreciate the support, and they've been happy to join in," Shelley Kinser, a local models, said about her experience collecting messages for Checkers/Rally's.

"We actually have had some people that have said they just got back from Iraq that are sending messages over there saying, 'You'll be home safe too. I just got back,'" she added.

In addition to collecting messages this weekend, the restaurant chain also is collecting items in 750 of its stores across the country.
The drive started May 8 and will continue until June 14. They expect to be able to send 40,000 packages on July 4 to servicemembers.
While models from local agencies were busy asking Checkers/Rally's customers to write messages to troops, the servicemembers in attendance got a visit from a top supermodel. Linda Evangelista took a break from the Pit Stop Challenge to pose for pictures with the troops.

"It keeps the morale high." Lance Cpl. Chris Offringa, of Company A, 1st Battalion, 24th Marine Regiment, said of Evangelista's visit. "To have a supermodel (pose for pictures), I think for anybody is just fantastic."

The servicemembers later attended a concert by popular bands the B-52s and Third Eye Blind at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

Army Sgt. 1st Class Michael Allen Warden, of the Army's Armor Center, at Fort Knox, Ky., said the event was a great opportunity for the soldiers and Marines. "Look at these guys; every one of them has a smile on his face. (You) can't beat that," he said.
Hope to see you at Checkers. God Bless Our Troops.

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