Military mom gives gator aid

As the occupation of Iraq enters its third year and both resources and morale are being stretched, Americans throughout the nation continue to rally energy and materials in an effort to uplift the troops.

One such person is Mary Skelton, the mother of a GW alumnus and soldier, who started what has become The Gator Project. The project’s mission has been to make gators (neck warmers) by the thousands for the troops in Iraq, since the troops are outside a good deal of the time, often at night, when temperatures regularly dip into the 30s during the winter.

Skelton’s son is serving in Iraq, and when he began writing home about the cold he and his fellow soldiers were enduring, she wanted to do something to help. She sent a box of gators over for her son and his compatriots, and when she received their effusive thank yous (“I think their mommas would be proud, they’re sending e-mails and thank-you notes,” she said), she decided to pass the idea on, and so The Gator Project was born.

“The project has been a wonderful activity for me to do besides worry,” Skelton said. “It’s been productive, it’s been heartwarming, it’s let the people (in Iraq) know every day that someone cares.”

The project has sent 6,446 gators overseas to date, and the thank-you letters have poured in by the hundreds. Service men and women have even used the gators as hand warmers kept in their pockets.

The project’s Web site (www.thegatorproject.com) features sewing instructions and a shipping address for people who want to get involved hands-on, and a donation form for the less needle-inclined. There’s also an option to order a gator to be sent to a soldier. Skelton then includes a dozen more for the other soldiers in his or her unit.

Now that the hot summer months are approaching, neck coolers have been added to the project as well. These garments are the reverse of the gator neck warmers, stuffed with crystals that expand and hold water, keeping whatever they’re tied around cool.

Skelton never imagined when she started the project in November 2004 that it would grow so large so quickly. Eight or nine Girl Scout troops have gotten involved, as well as a Cub Scout troop; women’s circles and church groups have made the gator sewing a monthly project.

The project has even become international.

“I had an e-mail … from a woman in Switzerland (who) asked her sister to send over some fleece, and she’s gonna make some from there. I had an e-mail from a woman in Scotland, and she’s going to make them,” Skelton said. “Every time I think about it, it’s just so heartwarming.”

Through the project, soldiers overseas have also been able to further the community service they can provide to the Iraqi neighborhoods in which they are stationed. Skelton put an ad and an address on the project’s Web site through which people can send children’s clothes, which she said the soldiers enjoy distributing.

“It’s nice for the guys to have something to do,” she said. “They visit hospitals and orphanages and schools, and it’s nice for them to have things to give out.”

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