The story of our now-legion, coast-to-coast troop of Happy Hookers begins with one — yes, just one –unassuming lady: Sharon Howard. (Get your hanky handy. You’re gonna need it.)
Operation Gratitude’s scarf program began in 2006 with a simple request from senior officers in the field for some type of extra-warming garment to be included in the packages. Ah, yes. It gets very, very cold — often below zero — in the winter months in Afghanistan and Iraq. Something we home-front civilians don’t seem to know.
The officers’ request fell on the able shoulders of a dedicated OpGrat volunteer, Sharon Howard, who decided that something handmade would serve two purposes at once: something warm not supplied by the military outfitters and something handmade to put the heart and soul of America into each package. So, Sharon set about to gather volunteer hookers and knitters for her new crusade.
From that first email solicitation, through years of arduous labors and donations of yarn from American retailers, through thousands and thousands of hours spent by everyday people from coast to coast, Sharon’s scarves-for-our-troops crusade has cuddled nearly 100,000 troops through Operation Gratitude care packages to the war zones. This year alone, the scarf program will send 40,000 handmade scarves and hats to our soldiers far from home.
I learned all of this from OpGrat volunteer Elaine Campbell, who graciously now co-runs Sharon’s crusade. Elaine and Sharon met in their early 20s doing community theater in Burbank, California, stayed friends throughout their lives, and both worked tirelessly for Operation Gratitude. In the spring of 2010, Sharon Howard succumbed to cancer and is no longer here to spread her charitable wings. Elaine and Lorene Van Ark-Miller now carry on in Sharon’s name and memory.
When Sharon first started the scarf program, she asked all hookers and knitters to use only camouflage type colors — tan, brown, green — but then one day someone sent her a red scarf. As handmade scarves were in very high demand among our troops, Sharon sent the “wrongly” colored red one and got a letter from the soldier who received it, saying simply that it had especially touched him because it was so much like — and the same color as — one he got as a child from his grandmother.
Now, scarves of all colors are welcome — and if you’re not crying by now – well, you don’t want to meet up with Sharon Howard in heaven and have to face her, now do you?