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Spring 2012: Scarves for Troops Update!

A guest blog post by Scarves for Troops coordinator, Elaine Campbell:

“…When the Treasure becomes a Memory, the Memory becomes a Treasure…”

It is with warm memories and a heavy heart that I tell you Joan Mazzarelli has passed away. Joan was a true patriot. During WWII she knit sweaters and socks for the troops.  Joan said, “I did it for the boys in WWII and I’m doing it for the boys and girls in Afghanistan and Iraq now.”

Her love and support for our military was unsurpassed. An American flag was flown over an Afghanistan base in her honor. As L.A. Daily News columnist Dennis McCarthy phrased it, “She’s part of the fabric of the U.S. war effort.” Joan warmed many a heart and put smiles on thousands of faces. She was a light in the world and will be greatly missed.

Please take a moment to learn more about this remarkable woman who knit over 550 scarves each year for the past several years to include in Operation Gratitude care packages. Casey Stegall of the Fox News Channel did a wonderful story about Joan in late 2010: http://bit.ly/ybBxb1

We receive so many heartwarming letters from our troops about your scarves — the time and effort we give here at home to make something special for our troops, who risk life and limb for us every day, means so much to them. Your handmade gifts in Operation Gratitude care packages may be the greatest way that we can honor their service and express our support. Thank you for your continued participation! One of our amazing heroes wrote to us upon receiving one of your scarves:

Dear Operation Gratitude: My name is Staff Sergeant (SSG) R.B. from Maryland and I am currently stationed in Kuwait. In one of the packages Operation Gratitude sent to me a scarf was enclosed, so on New Year’s Day I ran a 5k wearing the scarf.

Looks nice on him! Here’s another letter we received:

God does work in mysterious ways. I am currently serving in the Southwest Province of Afghanistan. I received the very nice knitted cap in the care package. It has come at a great time as it is now getting very chilly here in the evenings and morning!   The hat will be put to great use as I sport a “shaved head” hairstyle! I am quite fond of this style of hat. I will wear it proudly. The rest of my team and the soldiers, marines, seaman and airman that we support will certainly partake in the other goodies provided in the box from your organization. God Bless! “Aim High…” Major B.E.S.J. USAF

KNITTING UP A STORM!!!

Knitters and crocheters, you are all such an inspiration. You bring tremendous joy and support to these troops! We received 38,423 “items of warmth” over the 2011 scarf/hat drive. These items, plus those items-in-waiting from the end of the 2010 drive, means we succeeded in our goal of an item of warmth in EVERY box sent during our 2011 Holiday Drive! The conscientious, caring efforts of all knitters and crocheters is an incredibly heart-warming achievement. You’ll read about just a few individuals in this update: selfless, loving people who care deeply about supporting our military, who view receiving a note from a recipient of their scarf or hat, “a rare gift,” to quote one of our cherished knitters.

Meet Lynn Neill (pictured, left), who knit 101 scarves last year. Other members of her family contributed 100 more! Lynn says, “I am on track to match or beat last year’s total for 2012.” Thank you to Lynn and her kin!

Molly Goldblatt (pictured, right) has been a tremendous supporter of Operation Gratitude in a multitude of ways over many years. Besides knitting for the troops and getting others involved knitting and crocheting, she has held fundraisers and book drives, donating countless books to include in our boxes. Many thanks to Molly.

I want to bring special mention to Kelly South whose story we recently featured. Please  read her courageous, inspiring story, written in her own words. She shares her story much better than I can:  “The pain went away, and all I felt was joy…”

Kelly crocheted over 1,000 scarves and hats for Operation Gratitude. Asked why she made this commitment, Kelly responds, “It’s because of what our military does for us. Day in, and day out, they make the ultimate sacrifice and ask nothing in return. They are as selfless as I would strive to be. They are the people we should look up to, and thank each and every single day, for the freedoms we all share.”

Another one of our wonderful volunteers, Julie Riehle, agreed to share her letter to Operation Gratitude founder, Carolyn Blashek, with us:

Thank you for your nice letter re: the scarves I knitted. I am sorry I could not knit more but my husband had a stroke two years ago and I am his sole caregiver, so I don’t have a lot of time. But we spend a lot of time at doctors’ offices and it is a good take along.

My husband was a pilot of a B-24 in WWII I’m the South Pacific. His plane crashed in a rice paddy on his second to last mission. He lost six of his crew but managed to save the rest. He was lucky. He lost his front teeth and almost lost a leg and an ear. To this day he is involved in the VFW and is very into the military.

I am working on scarves for this year and will complete as many as I can. God bless your organization and God bless America.  Sincerely, Julie

She’s a special lady. We thank Julie’s husband for his WWII service and wish him well!

The knitting group from Pinehurst United Methodist Church in North Carolina has been contributing to our troops for years. I wanted to share parts of an email from them:

One of our members just brought in a huge pile of yarn for us to work with for next year.  And she said that she has another pile to give to us!!! So, we keep knitting. A very sweet, wonderful story: One of our members, Charlotte, was in the hospital and then to a rehab facility for convalescence. She is well up in her 80’s, but she is knitting up a storm. She had her neighbor bring in all her finished scarves because she knew we were sending out our last box. Yesterday, one of us visited her and she had another scarf done and was busy working on more scarves for next year. She is quite a neat lady. Well, that is all the news from Pinehurst, North Carolina. Thank you so much for all that you are doing. It is wonderful!

Some things I’ve learned this year as Scarves for Troops coordinator:

1. The best way to attach your personal notes to your scarves is with a piece of yarn through a hole in the note and then tied to the scarf (shown, left). Include your contact information — an email or “snail mail” address — so the recipient can send you a “thank you”! (If you’re uncomfortable using your personal address, feel free to use ours — opgrat@gmail.com — but please also include your full name so we can be sure to forward the message on to you!)

2. Avoid yarn that is very bulky. Even though a scarf is within the size measurements, it can still be a bit too bulky (dense). Be assured, we always do our best to include as many of the scarves as we can. Still, the box is not that large, so please be mindful always of size and density.  The flatter the scarf the better–we fold them about 10″ long and have no more than two inches in depth per box for our knit items. (Rest assured however, when too large for our regular boxes, those items now bring warmth and comfort to our Wounded Warriors.)

Important note on Scarf SizePlease adhere to the following measurements which have been slightly modified: 5-6 inches across, about 48 inches long.  Smaller than that and they look a bit skimpy; longer than that and they’re often too bulky!  No fringe, please.

“The Wide and Thick of it” The photos at right and below are an example of too thick, too wide, too narrow and too long. You can see how a scarf this size (right) really takes up most of the box. Please do not feel downhearted if you sent scarves this size. They are welcome, needed and appreciated by our Wounded Warriors.

“The Wide and Narrow of it” Scarf helpers and models, Myrna and Karen (pictured, left) are holding examples of the wide differences we receive in scarf widths. Between 5”-6” are ideal for the boxes we send. Thank you Myrna and Karen, both for modeling and for the countless hours volunteering at the Armory!!

“The Long and Short of it”  Hopefully your scarves will measure somewhere in between these two (like the one around my neck)!  :-)

3. Many of you are thoughtful to place each scarf in an individual plastic zip-lock bag. However, the bags fill with air and take up too much room in our boxes so I ask that you do not use individual bags. Instead, when mailing to the Armory, please place scarves all together in one large plastic zip-lock or draw-string bag so the scarves remain clean and dry during transit to us and while waiting to be shipped to the troops. Plus, it will save you money on those individual bags! 

4. Fleece scarves and gators made by scout troops and school age children are most welcome. If possible please accompany each one with a note: Made by Troop # …. Or class and age and/or children’s artwork. It makes the occasional imperfection easily forgiven and in fact endearing. However, do not send children’s emails or home addresses. You can use a teacher’s or troop leader’s email address.

5. For lots more information about the Hand-Made Items program, patterns for scarves, hats and Bandana Cool-Ties to knit, crochet and sew, check out our blog posts: Made With Love for Troops and Scarf, Hat, & Cool-Tie Project Details.

5. You may like to subscribe to a free crochet site for free patterns and tutorials: AllFreeCrochet.com
http://allfreecrochet.com/Crochet-for-Charity/Operation-Gratitude

Heading Into Spring!  Our hope is that even though the 2011 Holiday drive has ended, you all will be inspired to keep your hands and needles busy making scarves for the 2012 Holiday Drive. Our goal is to send 50,000 this year!! So, we will surely need your help.

Our storage at the armory is limited until after the Patriotic Drive which ends in June, so please hold on to your completed items. We ask that you please wait until August to send scarves and hats to us.

In the meantime, if you’d like to take a break from knitting/crocheting, but would still like to craft, we have a great project for our spring Patriotic Drive: Bandana Cool-Ties

You all know how hot the desert is in the summer. We want to include Bandana Cool-Ties in our 50,000 Patriotic Care Packages to offer our troops some relief from the blazing hot sun. These items are often worn around the neck while in uniform, so please stick to military colorsPlease see directions below. No need for notes on these (although they would be welcome). Please encourage all groups looking for a fun and worthwhile project to make some cool ties–it goes much faster with a team or a partner. 

If you’re not familiar with what Cool-Ties are, visit this website to see lots of different photos.

These are great to do with a friend or a “team!” You will find your own rhythm and best methods, but here are COOL-TIE DIRECTIONS to get you started:

1. Cut strips of fabric about 6 1/2 inches wide, with the length measurement being the width from selvage to selvage.
2. Sew a small width end, then turn 90 degrees and sew along the whole length side (1/4 inch margin), leaving the last short width end open. 
3. Turn it inside out and iron the creases.
4. Sew (about 13 inches) up from the closed end, across the thin width. 
5. Add in the crystals (aka polymer beads). IMPORTANT:  Be sure the crystals slide all the way down to the seam.
6. Sew across the thin width again to make a pocket for the crystals. 
7. Close the final open thin width end, by tucking in the edges and sewing across.  

For more information and to order the polymer beads: http://www.watersorb.com/polymer_cool_neck_bands.htm

Where to Send: 
Operation Gratitude / California Army National Guard
17330 Victory Blvd.
Van Nuys, CA  91406 Attn: Cool Ties

Note: Please use this Donation Form in whatever packages you send us. Find helpful shipping tips, cost-saving ideas and important information at our blog: Donation & Shipping Info.

If you want confirmation of delivery on your shipments of item donations prior to receipt of our acknowledgment letter (allow up to 12 weeks), please use the tracking system provided by your shipper. 

Lorene VanArk-Miller has graciously agreed to continue to help me with email correspondence. Lorene has been a volunteer with Operation Gratitude since the beginning — as a knitter, Cool-Ties maker and letter writer!! She’s the BEST and knows a lot about the organization!  Please feel free to email her with questions and/or suggestions. Lorene’s email: LoreneM@socal.rr.com

Thank you again for all your generous support! “Busy Hands, Happy Heart!”

With love and gratitude,
Elaine Campbell and Lorene VanArk-Miller
Sharon Howard Scarves for Troops Project Coordinators
LoreneM@socal.rr.com
hebc@sbcglobal.net                                                            

P.S.  If you have not yet donated towards the shipping costs of our care packages and would like to do so it would be greatly appreciated! Please make checks payable to Operation Gratitude, 16444 Refugio Road, Encino, CA  91436 or donate online here: DONATE.

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Doing What We Can to Help our Heroes and Their Families

U.S. Army Photo by Sgt. Jeffrey Alexander.

Many U.S. Military veterans and their families are facing extraordinary financial hardships during this time of worldwide economic upheavals. In late 2011 Businessweek reported that the job crisis is dire, citing for example that the youngest of veterans, aged 18 to 24, had a shocking 30.4 percent jobless rate in October, way up from 18.4 percent a year earlier.

Joblessness often leads to homelessness and our veterans are not immune from this frightening reality. 

According to the Veterans Administration: “Current population estimates suggest that about 107,000 veterans (male and female) are homeless on any given night and perhaps twice as many experience homelessness at some point during the course of a year. Many other veterans are considered near homeless or at risk because of their poverty, lack of support from family and friends, and dismal living conditions…”

While we can’t solve all the problems our veterans and their families might face, we want to offer support and encouragement where we are able. For the past several months, in cooperation with the leadership and chaplain corps of National Guard units nationwide, Operation Gratitude has assembled and distributed thousands of Military Family Care Packages (MFCPs) to Soldiers who cannot find civilian jobs and/or who are homeless, living in cars.

Additionally, MFCPs have been delivered to homeless veterans organizations and VA hospitals.

These care packages contain donated non-perishable food; personal hygiene products (shampoo, conditioner, lotion, etc.); household items (soaps, detergent, etc.); gift cards to stores like Target, Walmart, CVS and Walgreens; toys for children; clothing and more, valued at over $100 per package.

With generous assistance from our corporate sponsors and individual donors, we will continue to support deployed troops serving in combat zones and on Navy ships. We will also continue helping veterans and military families — with MFCPs, Battalion Buddy packages and Wounded Warrior packages — as long as there is a need.

Please consider joining our efforts to support these heroes who have selflessly given so much of themselves fighting for our country. Online financial donations may be made here: Donate Now.

For more specific information regarding the types of in-kind donations we accept for the MFCPs, please send an email inquiry to opgrat@gmail.com.

THANK YOU!

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“The pain went away, and all I felt was joy…”

Please take a few moments to read this heartwarming and inspiring story from Operation Gratitude volunteer Kelly South:

Just before Christmas of 2010, I had been looking for a way to volunteer my time. A friend told me about Operation Gratitude, and what they do to support our military men and women. I had never heard of this group, but as I read information on the home page, I knew I had found the right place. I come from a family that has sent countless men and women into battle, and it seemed like a perfect fit for me.

As I looked over the list of projects to volunteer for, I began to become a bit discouraged because many of them required a lot more physical movement than I could do. I suffer from Fibromyalgia, and my days are gauged by how much pain I will have to face every time I roll out of bed. But as I read further, I came upon the link for crocheting and knitting.  

That link would help make 2011 a very special year for me, and for over a thousand of our troops.

Now I had never tried to crochet or knit, but I’m a somewhat intelligent person and figured it just couldn’t be that hard to learn. My only concern would be my hands. How could I do this, when I have to have steroids injected into all of my knuckles every 12 weeks to take down the swelling and pain? Would I be able to push through the pain? I have always said that I would not allow this disease to rule my life, and I was determined to do my best. So, I headed off to You Tube, and watched some videos about how to crochet.

After watching videos for a solid 10 minutes, I decided to give it a try. The first scarf I made took almost six hours to complete — this was going to be a lot harder than I had thought! I decided to have another go at it to see if I could do better, and the second one only took two hours. By the time I made my 10th, I was down to just 45 minutes for each scarf, and I began formulating a plan in my head. If I could make just two or three a day, I might be able to make 700 scarves by the time they would need to be delivered. And that crazy idea made 2011 one of the most satisfying years of my life.

Every day, no matter how I felt, I crocheted. I began to realize that the crocheting was delaying the need for my shots, and actually helped with my overall pain. The more focused I became, the better I felt. Granted, there were days when I couldn’t even open a bottle of water because my hands were so swollen and painful, but still I crocheted. I knew what our troops faced every single day in the war zones, and I knew that my pain would not stop me from honoring them.

Month after month I crocheted, and at the beginning of August, I finally sat down and did a count. To my utter amazement, I had not only made 700, but I had actually made more. I couldn’t believe I met my goal even faster than I ever imagined. As I told my family and friends that I passed 700, they asked how it felt to be done with my project. What they didn’t know was that I still had time before they needed to be delivered, and that I had already set my new target goal to 1000. Off I went.

I made my delivery on November 5th, and with me were my main supporters: My friend Irene Figueroa, who wrote over 1000 letters to attach to all of my scarves. Without her, I would have never been able to crochet as much as I did. If I had had to sit and write those letters, I doubt I would have even made my first goal. My partner Ruth Norris, who helped me pay for the $1500 of yarn and was my biggest cheerleader. And finally, my friend Carol Scott, who allowed me to store the scarves in her garage. I also received yarn and gift cards from countless friends and family to help offset some of the cost.

On the day of delivery, we were asked to transfer the scarves from my tubs to those belonging to Operation Gratitude. It took all four of us, plus a dozen Girl Scouts, almost 45 minutes to get the job done! As we moved them we did a count, and to my utter dismay I had only made 991 scarves and hats. I was just nine short of my goal and not happy about it. Those nine scarves bothered me so much that I returned two weeks later with 15 more scarves, and the feeling of accomplishment finally hit.

I had really done it. I had made my goal. The pain went away, and all I felt was joy. I knew that over a thousand of our men and women in uniform would have that moment of home for the holidays. They would know that they were not forgotten by those of us at home, and how much we truly appreciated all they had sacrificed for us. My biggest hope is that for those few short moments home wasn’t quite so far away.

I have been asked why I would do so much for people I don’t know…Why would someone in my condition work so hard and spend so much? Why would I take a year of my life and crochet? Why do so many?

It’s because of what our military does for us. Day in, and day out, they make the ultimate sacrifice and ask nothing in return. They are as selfless as I would strive to be. They are the people we should look up to, and thank each and every single day, for the freedoms we all share.

When people ask those questions of me, my answer back to them will always be the same: “Why wouldn’t I?” –submitted by Kelly South

THANK YOU, Kelly!!

Kelly used the following YouTube videos to teach herself these crochet basics:
Very Beginning Chain
Simple Single Crochet Stitch
Double Crochet Stitch

MORE RESOURCES & INSPIRATION:
Learn How to Crochet
Learn How to Knit
Scarf, Hat, Cool-Tie Project Details: Materials, Size, Patterns
Making Scarves: How To’s and Tips!
Knitting at 98! Meet Joan Mazzarelli!

Have YARN, but no TIME to make scarves/hats? We have volunteers like Kelly who would appreciate donations of yarn to help them continue their projects! Please let us know if you would like to contribute in this way to our Scarves for Troops Program! Send an email to opgrat@gmail.com. THANK YOU!

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