Elementary school children were among those who made cards for the military. Photo by Chris Stone

Forming an assembly line, 60 volunteers filled 4,000 draw-string bags Saturday near Terminal 2 at San Diego International Airport.

On the eve of Veterans Day, the San Diego USO held its eighth annual packing of Waves of Appreciation bags with nonperishable food and other items.

The giftees?

Active-duty military service members traveling for the holidays on commercial flights from San Diego between Dec. 14 and Dec. 22.

Students from local elementary schools helped make holiday cards for the goodie bags, containing 18 items each at at total cost of $35,000, organizers said.

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“We see many of the same faces coming back year after year, bringing more friends and family,” said Elise Korican, Waves of Appreciation co-chair, whose helpers included USO San Diego members and Pepperdine alumni.

Why Pepperdine?

In 2011, Pepperdine University parent Reed Reichert met an exhausted and hungry service member on a flight, which sparked a WOA packing and distribution of close to 30,000 bags with the help of over 1,500 volunteers.

“I am honored to have had the opportunity to thank so many of these young men and women for their service to our country,” Reichert said. “They represent America at its best.”

Lauren Bullock of Encinitas, co-founder of Waves of Appreciation, said long hours in airports, airport food prices and the absence of food on many flights present challenges.

“It has been an honor to convert these obstacles into an opportunity to thank our service members,” Bullock said.

The work was done outside the USO San Diego Neil Ash Airport Center, where volunteers were entertained by dancers from Santa Fe Christian School.

“Everyone is having fun, laughing and enjoying themselves while they work to pack bag after bag full of food,” Korican said. “There’s really no other volunteer event I can think of that compares.”

Besides cards and thank-you notes, this year’s WOA bags have a variety of crackers, fruit snacks, nuts, beef jerky donated by Jack Links and granola bars donated by Target.

The four-hour chore involved more than six tons of individually packaged food items, breaking down cardboard boxes, and discarding hundreds of cartloads of recyclable waste.

Bobby Woods, director of the USO Neil Ash Airport Center, said: “The holiday season is about caring and goodwill. One of the silent missions of the USO is to provide a way for our community to give support to the military and their families, especially during this time of the year.

Waves of Appreciation sponsors this year included Knights of Columbus, Carlos Cuellar (Veterans Administration representative for San Diego Knights of Columbus), Jack Links, Los Rancheros Kiwanis, Pettit Kohn, St. Peter Thrift Store Fallbrook, the American Legion Pacific Palisades Post 283, Wells Fargo and Target.

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