LONGMONT — Members of the Hugs Project have a message for U.S. troops serving in the Middle East.
“We appreciate you for your service to your country, and so we want you to have this ‘Hug’ from home. When you place it around your neck, please remember there is someone who made this by hand just for you and who wishes they could actually give you a real hug.”
The project’s heart is a group of people who sew and send evaporative cooling ties to military personnel serving in the hot Middle Eastern desert.
On Friday, members of the local organization assembled at the Church of Christ on Collyer Street in Longmont to make more hugs.
“Your family has to love you, but a stranger does not,” said project founder Karen Stark, who drove in from Oklahoma to help the Longmont effort. “When one of our servicemen or women receives this hug from a stranger, they will know that they are loved — not just by their family, but by us all.”
Stark got the idea for the Hugs Project while going through junk e-mail one day. She had marked off all the e-mails that were to be deleted when she got an urge to open up one labeled “Make your own cooling tie.”
“I was just about to delete all the spam when I opened this one e-mail,” she said. “Inside were directions for making cooling ties, (and) suddenly I got goose bumps. I had the feeling I was supposed to do this.”
Stark posted information about the project on the Internet at foodTV.com, military.com and various message boards.
“People started to write back to me; they were very interested in giving our soldiers a hug,” Stark said as tears rolled in her eyes. “Some of the boys and girls out there in the ‘sandbox’ think that we don’t love them and what they’re doing out there. We just want them to know they’re loved.”
Today, close to a year after she started the project, Stark and her volunteers have made more than 66,000 ties and have representation in most states and six foreign countries. And the project continues to grow.
But Stark and her Longmont Hugs Project partner, Cheryl Leverett, could use some help.
“There are a million ways people can help,” Leverett said. “Hotels and motels can donate sheets, which we use as fabric for the ties; people can put together care packages, games, books, letters; donate their time to making the ties, anything that shares a little piece of home.”
Leverett and Stark feel that people are misinformed as to what soldiers are doing in the Middle East.
“It’s not all fighting,” Leverett said. “We’re not going to change things with guns; we’re going to change things with our hearts and minds.”
Stark spoke of a group of soldiers with whom she has been in touch who were on a routine drive down a road in Iraq one day when they came across a little girl standing in the middle of the road with a Beanie Baby doll in hand.
The soldiers stopped and asked the girl why she was standing in the middle of the road. The girl turned from the soldiers and pointed to a land mine.
“She saved their lives,” Stark said as she held back tears. “That Beanie Baby came from an American handout that those troops had conducted just weeks before. That girl was touched by love, and she saved those soldiers’ lives. The Hugs Project is trying to share this love.”
For more information, call Leverett at 303-684-0239, e-mail email@example.com or visit www.thehugsproject.com.
“We encourage everyone to help,” Stark said. “With assistance, we can reach out and hug every soldier serving in the Middle East.”
For more information, call Cheryl Leverett at 303-684-0239, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.thehugsproject.com.
Peter Marcus can be reached at 303-776-2244, or by e-mail at email@example.com.