What started as a simple gesture for military serving overseas has grown into a national nonprofit that has touched more than 50,000 lives.
Matthew Hunt, 45, founded A Rose of Thanks in 2007, which aims to send every U.S. Armed Service member in the Gulf region a thank-you card to show them they are missed and appreciated for defending our country. He has since taken his nonprofit on the road, attending national red-carpet events like the Emmys and the American Music Awards where celebrities create or sign their own cards for Hunt to send to troops. Most recently he attended the Golden Globes, where he and two other nonprofits received gift bags worth about $27,000.
The gift bag contents are up for auction on his website, www.aroseofthanks.org, and will help raise money for his efforts. Some items will be grouped together and others will be sold separately, but all of them will have a "buy-now" option.
"The gift bag is cool, but where we've come from, just one card is phenomenal," said Hunt. "The coolest thing has been having troops write back to me and say thanks. When I'm at some of these bigger events, I've had troops tells me these cards make a huge difference, and that's what this is all about."
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Items in GBK Productions' Golden Globe gift bags range from an all-inclusive week in the Caribbean worth $5,800, a $14,000 eight-night, all-inclusive health package in Africa (flight not included), an $800 William Henry Studio limited edition pen and dozens of other items that range from $10 to $350 include sunglasses, tequila, coffee, clothing, swimwear, jewelry, organic dog food, skin care and beauty products. GBK Productions is a special events and fundraising company known for integrating the entertainment and nonprofit industries.
Hunt has attended dozens of other major national events through the years, setting up displays at major concerts like the Vans Warped Tour and sporting events like the Valero Alamo Bowl, as well as local events like Charlotte's Bartenders Ball and the Special Olympics in Cabarrus County. He and his crew of seven volunteers also have a regular weekend display at Carolina Mall in Concord.
Through his travels, Hunt has met hundreds of celebrities from hit TV shows like "Grey's Anatomy," "Glee" and "Modern Family," as well as a long list of musicians and actors, who have personalized cards for troops. Sarah Palin's mother-in-law, Page, even sent Hunt a hand-written thank-you letter for his efforts.
"The friendships I've made - good God," said Hunt. "So many people I've come in contact with are normal people just like us, and most of them know somebody that's been in the military, so it's something they can relate to. The little things truly make all the difference, but by making these contacts we might be able to send a card to a family member of one of the celebrities."
Kimberley Locke, a singer and fashion model who gained fame after she placed third in the 2003 season of "American Idol," wrote in a recent blog about meeting Hunt and learning about A Rose of Thanks at the Golden Globes.
"My new friend Matthew Hunt was there getting celebrities to color a card with a rose on it so that he could send it to the troops," she wrote. "How can you say no to that? Matthew was such a sweetheart and I really enjoyed chatting with him. He told me all about the organization and even offered to let me draw my very own rose, which I plan to do. This is a very simple gesture that will go a long way. I hope that whoever gets my rose is blessed by it," she wrote.
Also at the Golden Globes, Hunt met with Missy Halperin, the senior vice president of talent relations for Fox Broadcasting, and discussed the possibility of having his military-appreciation greeting featured on an episode of "Glee" in May, which is Military Appreciation Month. Halperin and her daughter each personalized cards.
The gift suites where Hunt sets up displays generally range from $5,000-$7,000, he said, but event organizers like his idea so much that they allow him in for free. He pays for the trips out of his pocket from money he makes still delivering pizza.
"It's something so simple, everyone can do it," said Hunt. "There are so many things people can do to get involved. I really need help creating fundraising events to help make it a self-sustaining nonprofit."
A future effort is being organized to supply care packages for female soldiers, which Hunt is looking to start by summer.
"To me, spreading the word about A Rose of Thanks and my future projects is more important than telling people about the celebrities I've met," he said.
"Getting more people involved and spreading the word about supporting our troops is the most important part of this. It's not just about A Rose of Thanks. There are tons of other organizations that support the troops. To me, that sums it up."