Hundreds of deployed United States troops will receive a special gift this Christmas thanks to the work of Ed McClelland.

The Mi-Wuk Village resident is the founder of Operation Creekside, a faith-based ministry that sends care packages to U.S. military veterans and active service members across the world.

McClelland’s organization has sent more than 15,000 care packages since it was founded in 2008.

McClelland has personally shipped care packages out of post offices in 40 states, though he said he will go out of his way to use the one in Soulsbyville.

“I’ve had bad experiences with post offices and good experiences, but this here is a good experience,” he said while shipping 18 care packages at the post office in Soulsbyville on Dec. 13. “They just make it easy.”

Many of the 18 packages that McClelland was shipping were destined for locations overseas where U.S. troops are stationed, including Afghanistan and Kuwait.

McClelland works with veterans organizations and contacts in the military to gather names and addresses of veterans and deployed troops.

“Most of these recipients have no idea who we are,” McClelland said. “We just get their names and ship.”

Each of the packages weighs about eight to 12 pounds and contain foods that ship well, like granola bars, Pop Tarts, and sunflower seeds.

McClelland also works with public schools to include handwritten thank you notes and pictures from students.

He said the main purpose of the packages is to provide encouragement.

“It’s just a thankful attitude,” he said.

While McClelland was filling out customs forms, Suzanne McGee was processing the packages from behind the post office’s counter to get them ready for shipping.

McGee has worked for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years, the past 18 of which have been at the post office in Soulsbyville.

“The Postal Service is a supporter of the military,” said McGee, of Soulsbyville. “I’m a supporter of the military.”

McClelland started shipping out of the post office in Soulsbyville about a year ago after he moved from Brentwood to work at Christian Berets, a summer camp in Mi-Wuk Village for people with special needs and disabilities.

Outside of shipping care packages, McClelland is a trained chaplain and visits families of veterans who have committed suicide.

McClelland calls them the families of the “22,” after the oft-cited statistic from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs that 22 American veterans commit suicide each day.

Despite his dedication to the military, McClelland has never served.

“I’m just a grateful civilian,” he said while sporting a camouflage baseball cap emblazoned with “God’s Army” on the front.

McClelland worked for 30 years in construction before getting into nonprofit work, which he described as “way more fun” than his previous career.

He said he started the organization in part because he’s a recovering alcoholic.

“I had to find something that was beneficial to someone other than me,” he said.

One of the local organizations that McClelland works with is Sonora Vets Helping Vets.

Aaron Rasmussen, chief executive officer of Sonora Vets Helping Vets, said the organization will connect McClelland with veterans who are in crisis.

McClelland also organizes retreats for veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder through a group he hosts called Task Force Hope.

“We’re literally fighting a spiritual battle with a clinical approach,” McClelland said.

Rasmussen, an Army veteran, said he received a care package from Operation Creekside in 2014 prior to meeting McClelland.

Rasmussen said that it reminded him of the care packages he received from home while serving in the Iraq War from 2004 to 2005.

The work that McClelland’s doing is particularly important now, Rasmussen said, because there are fewer groups sending care packages to troops as conflicts overseas wind down.

“When the war was kicking off, a lot of units had family readiness groups to send packages like these, but that’s not happening as much now,” he said. “It’s becoming a forgotten war.”

Contact Alex MacLean at amaclean@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4530.

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