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Heather Thamer, a yoga instructor in Howard County, has collected over 200 homemade hats and scarves to send to American troops over the past three years. Her efforts are part of a national organization that sends care packages to soldiers.
Heather Thamer, a yoga instructor in Howard County, has collected over 200 homemade hats and scarves to send to American troops over the past three years. Her efforts are part of a national organization that sends care packages to soldiers. (Submitted photo)

Two years ago Heather Thamer, a yoga instructor in Howard County, came across a magazine story about Operation Gratitude, a national organization that sends care packages to American troops. The story included different ways to contribute, including a scarf drive.

"I crochet scarves. I can't really do anything else," Thamer said, laughing about her limited crocheting repertoire. "But I have a lot of family and friends who love to knit and crochet. So I put the word out there that if folks wanted to make some things for the troops, that would be great."

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She mentioned her scarf drive to several of her yoga classes in the county and in the first year, Thamer collected 40 scarves for Operation Gratitude. Last year, she collected about 180 scarves and hats and this year she estimates that she will collect around 170.

"It's a lot of different single individuals," Thamer said, "but also groups: a few local churches, a group from Howard County General Hospital, several friends that make two dozen scarves at one time."

Per Operation Gratitude guidelines, all of the items must be handmade and cannot be store-bought.

"So people have spent a lot of time making these things for the troops," Thamer said.

Last Friday was the deadline for community members to donate to Thamer's scarf drive this year. This was to allow time for the items to be packed and shipped this week to California; that is where Operation Gratitude is based.

Once the shipment arrives, the scarves and hats will be divvied up among care packages to be sent to troops posted in the United States and overseas before the holidays.

Along with the homemade hats and scarves, the care packages include candy, entertainment and letters of appreciation to the soldiers. Operation Gratitude sends more than 150,000 of these packages a year and, since its founding in 2003, has sent more than 1 million care packages to Americans in all branches of the military.

"It's a joint effort and it's kind of a way of giving back in a really heartfelt way," Thamer said. "Those troops do so much for us, and this is just a drop in the bucket. But hopefully when they get these care packages, it makes a difference."

In the first year, Thamer paid out of her own pocket to ship the scarves and hats she collected to California.

"I didn't realize it would be so expensive to ship them," she said. It cost her $150.

In the second year of the project, the student outreach club at Mount View Middle School held a bake sale to cover almost $300 in shipping costs. Thamer's friend is a leader in the club, which hosted a taco and karaoke night this fall and raised close to $200 to pay for shipping costs for the 2015 drive.

In addition, about 30 students in the club wrote 80 notes to pin to the scarves, "expressing sentiment to soldiers or thanking them for their service," Thamer said. "Some of the sentiments said, 'To my hero' and were just very heartfelt."

In the past two years the Mount View Middle students have also helped Thamer to pack the finished scarves and hats into Ziploc bags so that they would not be damaged by rain while being shipped across the country.

Another of Thamer's friends teaches kindergarten at Manor Woods Elementary School and had students in the four kindergarten classes there make thank you cards for the soldiers on Veterans Day. The cards will be sent out with the scarves and hats in the care packages.

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"It was so cute," she said. "They drew pictures of soldiers. The teachers told them not to draw guns in the pictures, but they drew lots of American flags and rainbows and wrote little messages, like 'Thank you for protecting our world.' It's very sweet stuff."

For more information or to contribute to Thamer's scarf drive for Operation Gratitude, contact her at yoga@heatherthamer.com.

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