It’s Not Just… A Scarf

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This week we launched the Clear Your Stash Challenge, and it is the perfect time to tell you about some of our knitting and crocheting champions who have impacted thousands of lives since our Handmade With Love program started in 2007 with Scarves for Troops.

One such champion is Diane, who posted this photo of herself a few weeks ago on our OG in Action Facebook Group. With her most recent donation of 360 scarves, her lifetime total is now 5,577 scarves with accompanying thank you notes on all of them! I know her actions were not only admired by our growing community of volunteers but also inspired others to do more.

I will never forget meeting Diane at my first Assembly Day as the CEO of Operation Gratitude when we celebrated our 2 Millionth Care Package. On that day Diane placed 100 of her scarves and handwritten notes in Care Packages for Deployed Troops. She also got to meet Veterans of every generation and speak directly to three active-duty Marines who recently returned from deployment.

Diane was able to say “thank you for your service” in person and look in the eyes of the actual recipients of her kindness. They told her what it was like to be deployed and how much they appreciated her support and the tangible way she demonstrated it. Perhaps for the first time, she realized the true impact of her actions. One thing is for certain, Diane left that Assembly Day inspired to do more and spread the word about Operation Gratitude — a champion for our cause.

It was in that moment that I realized it’s not just a scarf… it is the start of a conversation that leads to a meaningful connection and creates a better understanding about service. And I have seen it time and again since meeting Diane on my 8th day as the CEO of Operation Gratitude.

An email we received this past weekend from a Sailor also shows it’s not just a scarf… it provides warmth to our service members in both body and spirit. As you read the beautiful words he wrote to the winners of our RED Scarf Challenge, imagine what it would be like if we connected Service Members like this Sailor to all of our knitters and crocheters in person:

“Dear Pat, Aubry, and Teri,

Thank you so much for the handmade gifts! These mean so much to us out here. I have never gotten such a thoughtful gift as this scarf. I love it and it really brings a sense of home to all of us at sea.

I am an Aegis Fire Controlman First Class serving aboard the USS Sterett (DDG-104) currently deployed with the 5th Fleet. This deployment has been a tough one due to COVID. We left our families back home, praying that they will stay healthy and safe. We left the pier not being able to give them hugs or kisses due to us being quarantined to the ship before we set sail.

We have not been able to hit any ports since we left due to COVID, and we’ve been sailing for a few months straight now. Praying and taking it day by day is the only way to get through this. It is such a blessing to serve our fellow Americans.

When I opened my box and saw that beautiful red scarf, I just felt so happy and warm inside! Even though it is on average over 100 degrees out here, I keep it in my rack (bunk) with me, it gets cold in there most times at sea.

Once again thank you so much!! God Bless you and have a wonderful blessed day!”

V/R FCA1 (SW) S.J.M, USS Sterett (DDG-104)

Many years ago, another one of our prolific knitters, Sara, shared a story about a Sailor who wrote to her after receiving a scarf, as well. Her recollection about the emails, letters and phone calls they exchanged is legendary at Operation Gratitude, and her story was shared with millions of viewers during a national news interview just over a year ago in New York City.

However, it’s not just a sweet story about a Care Package recipient calling one of our longtime volunteers, “Mom.” To me, this demonstrates that it’s not just a scarf… it creates lasting bonds between grateful Americans and our Service Members. That Sailor is now a police officer with NYPD, and Sara reached out to Operation Gratitude to request Care Packages for his entire unit this year — at a time they need our support more than ever.

The last volunteer I want to tell you about is Mary, who has been knitting for Operation Gratitude since 2010. Last year, she and I were planning to meet at Arlington National Cemetery to visit her husband’s burial site. The trip didn’t happen due to bad weather, but instead, Mary and I met up at our Battalion Buddies Delivery to 82nd Airborne Division near her home in North Carolina.

After joining us that day to deliver cuddly bears to the waiting arms of hundreds of military children and meeting families of Deployed Troops, Mary felt the stirring emotion that we all feel at Operation Gratitude events – the need to do more. She became a champion, rounding up some of the knitters at her church the very next day and inspiring them to join our movement, too.

Mary also championed an effort to bring her community together in support of healthcare heroes at the UNC Rex Hospital, where her son, David, is an ER nurse. We were honored, along with Mary, to impact hundreds of Frontline Responders who got a much-needed morale boost during COVID-19.

In this case, as in many of the stories our volunteers share, it’s not just a scarf…it is part of a grassroots movement with many intersecting paths — paths that lead to meaningful and lasting connections between civilians and our nation’s servicemen and women and their families.

What will happen if everyone reading this email realizes that the gift of a Handmade with Love hat or scarf is much more than a tangible reminder of support although it is indeed that!

What if hundreds more of our volunteers, like Diane, Sara, and Mary, see this as a call to action to knit or crochet —and they, too, make meaningful connections with those who serve?

Imagine the impact we could make in communities across the country when we build bridges. I know what will happen because I have seen it time and time again, with champions like Diane, Sara, Mary, and countless other volunteers. Ultimately, the connections we make will lead to stronger communities and a stronger nation.

Are you ready to become a champion for Operation Gratitude? Are you inspired to do more and get others to join our cause?

If you are, email me directly to learn more about what our organization is doing to make an even greater impact going forward, and join our OG in Action Volunteer Group on Facebook.

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Amidst the heat of the summer, an image of logs crackling in the fireplace and casting a glow on stockings hung above is probably the last thing to come to mind for most people. But for Operation Gratitude and our growing army of volunteers nationwide, the holiday spirit is always in our thoughts.

More Than Just a Hug

When I look back at my journey over the past 3 years and 8 months as the CEO of Operation Gratitude, the one thing that sticks out the most are the hugs.

They are etched in my memory forever — literally thousands of hugs at hundreds of service projects and community-building events — on too many trips, and in too many cities to count, from sea to shining sea.