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story.lead_photo.caption Knitting: Mary Jo Crosley knits a hat for Operation Gratitude, an organization that sends care packages to the military and their families.

Mary Jo Crosley has knitted her whole life, but it wasn’t until three years ago that she began donating knitted hats and scarves to the Operation Gratitude organization.

Crosley has since knitted over 200 hats and scarves for the nonprofit organization that was founded in 2003 and sends care packages to the military and their families. The organization has shipped over 2 million packages since its inception.

Crosley has always enjoyed giving back, and has always been in volunteer mode for just about everything. Operation Gratitude has given her the opportunity to combine her love for knitting and volunteering.

“I guess I’ve always felt the need to be needed,” Crosley said. “I sure get a lot back though.”

After the first year of donating knitted hats and scarves, Crosley received a letter from Carolyn Blashek, founder of the Operation Gratitude organization, thanking her for what she was doing.

Certificate: Mary Jo Crosley, left, and Georgene Jones, with the flag and certificate Crosley received from Sgt. Adam Valeski for the knitted hat and scarf he received.

The following year, she began receiving letters from members of the troops themselves. She has since gathered a large collection of thank you letters from members of all branches of the military.

Crosley and her daughter, Georgene Jones, work together getting the knitted goods to the organization.

“They ask that you include a card or a note with each item saying thanks for what they’re doing,” Jones said. “I picked up all the caps and scarves she had done and I wrote handwritten notes with each one of them. I said they were knit by my mom and how much she enjoyed doing it.”

Jones left her email address and Crosley’s address in the letters for the recipients, giving them a way to thank Crosley if they wanted to.

Most recently, Jones received an email from a sergeant in the Army National Guard thanking Crosley for the hat and asking for a matching scarf. The sergeant added that he was so appreciative for the hat that they were going to fly a flag for her.

Not knowing what flying a flag meant, Crosley was speechless when she later received a package in the mail containing a certificate with a picture of a Black Hawk helicopter with four military men holding an American flag in front of it. Also in the package was the actual flag from the picture.

“When they go out on a mission, they fly the American flag on their helicopter,” Jones said. “This particular mission he went on, he flew the flag in her name and wrapped it up and sent her the flag.”

The certificate states, “Certificate of Authenticity Proudly Presented To: Mary Jo Crosley.” It also contains details about the flight the flag flew, including that it logged 5.7 combat hours during an air mission in Iraq.

“What started out as sort of an impersonal knit and send off has really turned into something gratifying for all of us,” Jones said. “We’re all getting something out of it.”

Jones is who introduced Crosley to the organization.

“At the time, I was just sending books during the year for (Operation Gratitude) to pack up, and then I realized that they wanted other things like knit goods,” Jones said. “My mom is always knitting, so I told her about it and she said, ‘Well, that sounds pretty interesting.’”

Flying flag: The flag and certificate Crosley received from Sgt. Adam Valeski for the knitted hat and scarf he received.

Crosley will turn 92 this year and her husband is a 101-year-old World War II veteran.

“There was a time not many years ago that I was ready to go because I knew that I was not doing good physically, but with this, I want to live forever,” Crosley said.

According to the organization’s website, “Every year, Operation Gratitude sends 250,000+ individually addressed Care Packages to Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen deployed overseas, to their children left behind and to First Responders, New Recruits, Veterans, Wounded Heroes and their Care Givers.”

For more information on Operation Gratitude, visit

Kaitlyn Rigdon can be reached at 870-862-6611 or krigdon@

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