The Hugs Project

For Karen Stark, the war in Iraq is more than just a segment on the evening news. It's more than something that is happening over there, and for Stark, it is far more important than an issue in the 2008 elections.

For her, it hits close to her home and close to her heart. Karen and her husband Ray "adopted" a Marine three years ago. The idea in adopting active military personnel is to give that individual someone to email and converse with about things back home. It gave Karen and Ray somebody to send care packages to. Packages that include the little things like beef jerky, eye drops, powdered drink mixes, nail clippers and an occasional Snickers bar.

Soon after, Karen began to understand one of the biggest obstacles our troops had to endure was the extreme heat. One-third of the days in the Iraq desert reach 130-140 degrees. Then an idea of how to do their part in helping support our troops in harm's way came to her.

"I told my husband that I had figured out how I could help," she said. "Although I didn't have a sewing machine or even know how to sew, I knew what I needed to do and also knew that I needed some help."

The idea evolved into the Soldier Hug. Basically, a Hug is a cooling scarf like necktie. When hydrated the polymer crystal inside of the tie turns into a moist gel and has the ability to stay cool for many hours. The Soldier wraps the tie around their neck and finds a bit of relief from the sweltering heat. The group has heard from a Navy medic that these things have actually saved the life of an 18 year old Marine dying of heat stroke.

Before Karen could even figure out the directions, her Internet friends, had made 50 hugs each and shipped them to Justin and Ted, their first adopted Marines.

"A couple of days passed after Justin received his Hugs and he never said a word about if they worked or not. Finally I asked and he told me that he had given them all away," she said. "He told me that his men needed them worse than he did. It was then that I knew we had to really step up our production."

So a small group of ladies from Edmond, Shawnee, Midwest City and the surrounding areas began spending Wednesdays making Hugs. Even Ray learned to sew and now he operates one of the four industrial sewing machines the group owns.

Recently, the need for a new permanent location arose. Crossroads Mall stepped-up and donated a storefront. One of their maintenance people saw a news story on Channel 9 stating that the group had lost their place at the downtown OKC First Baptist Church and since his son is now serving in Iraq, this group's plight touched him in a personal way.


"People over here want to do something to help. They had no idea that something as simple as sewing would make such a big difference," she said. "The people who are helping and volunteering their time to support our troops have huge hearts."

The volunteering continues to grow, and so do the different locations where care packages and Hugs are being assembled. Within a short time, Denver, Sacramento, Portland, Austin and Tulsa all had headquarters set up were people could volunteer their efforts to help our soldiers. The Hugs Project is now in all 50 states and 27 foreign countries and it all began right here in Oklahoma.

The Hugs Project, being a non-profit organization relies completely on donations. They must withstand enormous expenses. Each week, the Oklahoma City location sends out 40-50 care packages at a cost of nine dollars for shipping, this does not include the cost of the items inside the package.

"Determination, desire and the love for our military and what they are doing for us is not enough to fund our project," she said. "We pay no salaries and no rent, every dime that we receive goes to our troops. We are not in this for us, we are in this for them."

Today, it is estimated that The Hugs Project has produced and sent over 245,000 Hugs to Middle East. The organization is also planning to more than double last year's total number of Christmas packages sent. The goal for this year is 1,000 packages.

"We won't turn anybody away. We are all here doing our little part to help our guys and gals be just a little more comfortable doing their jobs."

For information on how to volunteer, or to learn more information about The Hugs Project, go to www.TheHugsProject.com, www.TheHugsProject.net or email at thehugsproject@cox.net.

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