Penny’s Purpose

On a Saturday morning at the end of a very long COVID year, I had a conversation with one of our volunteers that I will never forget. 

When I called Penny Stewart to say thank you for the beautiful Marine Amigurumi figures she had crocheted for me and our COO, Paul Cucinotta, I didn’t anticipate her saying something that will stick with me forever. 

“Kevin, I want you to know that the impact Operation Gratitude makes on your recipients is only equaled by the difference you make for your volunteers,” she said. “You give us a sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed every morning.”

I told Penny how much it meant to me personally to hear her say those words, and I shared my own story about how I found a renewed sense of purpose after leaving the Marine Corps 11 years ago. 

Penny has become an active part of our community of volunteers on the Operation Gratitude in Action Facebook Group inspiring others to serve those who serve in unique ways. With her actions, she has helped hundreds of volunteers find their sense of purpose, too. 

As I type those words I realize that is one of the reasons I love this organization with all my heart and soul. Operation Gratitude not only gave me a sense of purpose, but it has also given countless Americans, like Penny, a sense of purpose, too — one that goes beyond saying “thank you for your service.”

This has rung particularly true during COVID when so many Americans are homebound and isolated. At a time when people are yearning for human connection, we continue to bring together thousands of volunteers each day on Zoom calls and in virtual volunteer groups that give back in a hands-on way through Operation Gratitude. 

This was never more apparent to me than it was a few months ago when I joined Penny and 30 other Handmade With Love volunteers during a crafting session led by the Director of our HWL program, Kelly South. I saw and became part of a tight-knit community they are building — a community of passionate volunteers who laugh, share stories, and above all, support one another.  

Penny’s purpose — the reason she serves with Operation Gratitude — has evolved since her journey started with us last year. 

When you look at these magical figures that Penny crafted with her own hands, it is easy to comprehend the difference she will make in the lives of our men and women in uniform and their families. What you don’t see is the impact this new Amigurumi HWL program has made on other volunteers. With her actions Penny has inspired fellow volunteers to craft “Tiny Heroes,” and they, in turn, have inspired Penny to crochet more and dozens of other knitters and crocheters to join our movement, too.

I want you to know that the impact Operation Gratitude makes on your recipients is only equaled by the difference you make for your volunteers.


Like Pat Tripodo, who shares Penny’s passion and purpose with Operation Gratitude — Pat adds her own flair to the Amigurumi patterns that our HWL crafters share with each other. Look at her collection of camouflaged figures donning Remember Everyone Deployed RED scarves, and think of the comfort they will bring to a young military child who is desperately missing their deployed parent. Imagine how much the “tiny police officer” she crafted will help console the loved one of a fallen hero. 

Sandra Sherman heard the call to serve too, and found a sense of purpose like Penny and Pat. This week she reached her goal of creating 21 “Tiny Troops” in just the first six weeks of the new year. Each one is tagged with a personal thank you note, and Sandra has given them unique names, all starting with the letter “J.” Sandra’s “J Troop” will lift the spirits of 21 military families that are going through a very difficult time, separated by extended deployments during a global pandemic. 

What I want for everyone who reads this Weekly Briefing is to experience the same sense of Penny’s purpose that Pat and Sarah wake up with each morning. I’m asking you to consider doing three things that will not only make a profound difference for servicemen and women but will undoubtedly impact you, too: 

  1. Become a Handmade With Love volunteer. There are many ways to participate in our HWL program — knitting and crochet are not required skills!
  2. Organize a community-wide virtual service project with your child’s school, your church, or another group in your neighborhood. Someone from our team or I will join you and speak to the group!
  3. Join our community of volunteers on the OG in Action Facebook Group.

What I want for YOU is the one thing that completes me as a person and gets me out of bed every morning with a burning passion to serve. I want you to find your own sense of purpose with Operation Gratitude. I know if you do, it will change your life forever, like it has mine. 

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Channeling the Holiday Spirit this Summer

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.