UStory
UStory: Handmade Brigade
  by:  |  Jun 11, 2020

How do you give back?

It is probably a question that we either do not ask ourselves enough or ask too much too often.

With good intentions, we look for the best ways to help and extend support to those who need it. While the rest of us continue to search and wonder, organizations like Handmade Brigade has figured out exactly how to do it and to whom their efforts will go.

Knitting a Cause

Handmade Brigade founder, Liz Howard, found her love for loom knitting in 2015 after watching a YouTube video. She then made a couple of scarves and gifted them to loved ones for Christmas. What seemed like a newfound hobby paved the way into something more purposeful.

“The feeling of crafting an item with my hands and seeing the smiles on the faces of my loved ones awakened a sense of purpose that is difficult to put into words. It felt bigger than me… like something that I was meant to do on a larger scale.”, Liz shared.

Liz’s family has a rich history of military service. Her father and uncle are veterans of the U.S. Navy, and her paternal grandparents served in the U.S. Army Air Corps. This inspired Liz to create an organization as a way of giving back to the brave individuals, like her family members, who stepped up to defend the nation and protect the liberties we hold dear.

Handmade Brigade Beanies for Baghdad delivery

Handmade Warmth and Gratitude

Handmade Brigade is a charitable non-profit that donates handmade hats and scarves to U.S. military personnel and veterans. The handmade items are donated by volunteer knitters, loom knitters, and crocheters across the United States using all American-made materials.

According to Liz, the handmade campaign is meant to acknowledge their services and to let them know that their sacrifices are deeply appreciated, especially those who are serving abroad, facing constant danger away from their homes and loved ones.

When asked why she chose handmade hats and scarves to support U.S. military personnel and veterans, Liz says:

“There is something truly special about receiving an item that has been made by hand, more so when you know it was crafted especially for you. This is why each of our hats and scarves comes with a custom hang tag with the name of the person who made the item.”

Knitted hats donation from Handmade Brigade

Volunteer Community

Handmade Brigade enjoys a strong following on social media. Their presence has helped them grow a volunteer base that is incredibly supportive of their efforts. Their community of crafters generously dedicates their time and talents to keep the steady flow of handmade donations coming.  

They have come a long way from when Liz first started. In the early days of Handmade Brigade, she was the only person crafting items. Four years later, there are now over twenty talented yarn artists from Maine to California helping her. 

Their delivery to the 82nd Infantry Airborne in Afghanistan will mark the organization’s 1,000th donated item. As they celebrate this milestone, their eyes are already set on the next 1,000 donations and the 1,000 after that.   

“We love what we do, and we are so thankful to have the opportunity to give back to those who have given so much for us.”

Annual Giving Campaigns

With more hands on deck, Liz and her team decided to launch annual giving campaigns where they choose one branch of the military or a veteran’s organization to focus their efforts on. Among them are OORAH Knits and Warm A Homeless Vet.

Their first one was Scarves for Sailors.

Scarves for Sailors donation to the US Navy

Liz’s father served on a submarine during his Navy career, which made the U.S. Navy a perfect start for the organization’s first donation effort.

After securing the necessary permissions, Handmade Brigade made and gifted 158 scarves to the crew of the USS Virginia and to the crew of Virginia’s former home port of Groton, CT. The latter proved to be an unforgettable experience as they were allowed to make the delivery in person and even took a guided tour of the submarine.

“It was an experience that I will never forget and definitely one of the high points of not only my work with Handmade Brigade, but of my life in general.”, Liz recalls of the experience.

US Navy crew with Handmade Brigade scarves 

Their most recent campaign is Beanies for Baghdad which wrapped up in November last year. The campaign was launched in partnership with another non-profit organization, Bunkers in Baghdad, whose donation efforts go to service members deployed in combat zones overseas.

Liz expresses her gratitude to the amazing team of volunteers who helped them produce 314 hats and 14 scarves.

US military receives Beanies for Baghdad and Bunkers for Baghdad donation

Challenges Along the Way

Handmade Brigade is no stranger to challenges. Among them is the financial capability to cover their expenses. This includes funds for raw materials like yarn, which is more expensive since they only use American-made items for their hats and scarves.

Liz shares that for the first few years of their operation, most of the money came out of her own pocket. Last year, they decided to direct efforts into fundraising initiatives to raise money for their campaigns; and it has paid off.

“We hosted our first online t-shirt sale where people could buy a shirt with our logo or make a donation and the response was incredible.”

Help came whenever they call for it. The organization’s supporters would often choose them as the recipient for their birthday or Giving Tuesday fundraisers on Facebook. Even other non-profits are quick to lend a hand.

“We’ve been fortunate to receive a huge yarn donation from another non-profit, Project HOPE, which has greatly reduced the amount of yarn we need to purchase.”

Making an Impact

A veteran’s experience after military service is nothing short of challenging as they reintegrate themselves back into civilian life. The U.S. Veterans Magazine highlights some of them which include reconnecting with the family and entering the workforce.

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs has programs to help returning military with benefits including healthcare, housing assistance, and careers and employment.

Government support is one thing, but it is another to make them feel a part of the community again. It is this kind of impact that continues to motivate Handmade Brigade in their efforts.

We asked Liz what made her realize the impact of what they do, and she has this story to share.

“We heard from the mom of a soldier with the 82nd Infantry Airborne currently serving in Afghanistan. Her son had received a hat through our Beanies for Baghdad campaign, and she wanted to know if we could send 75 more… enough for his whole squad.

The thought of our hats keeping those brave men and women warm in such a hostile and dangerous environment is exactly why we do what we do.”

MOH recepient Woody Williams

Liz adds how it gives their team so much joy when they hear back from someone who received their handmade items. The volunteers themselves have expressed the wonderful feeling of accomplishment in knowing that their handmade scarves and hats are going to service members or veterans.

Building the Brand

One of the efforts that Handmade Brigade wants to explore this year is expanding its branding opportunities, which was one of the reasons that brought them to discover UPrinting.

Liz recalls how they needed a new printing partner for their custom hang tags, and that they were lucky to find us at a crucial stage in their branding process. How come, you ask?

The hang tags are the only branding material that accompanies their hats and scarves. They play an important role by serving as a snapshot representation of the organization and the only instrument that relates their gratitude to the recipient as well as let them know who made the item.

“It is our connection to that individual and theirs to us. If something about it isn’t right, it could sour the feel of their donated item and break that bond.”

Knitted hats by Handmade Brigade with hang tags

Liz shared kind words of appreciation about her UPrinting experience. We are of course elated to know that an amazing organization like Handmade Brigade has chosen us to be a part of their branding process.

“The UPrinting customer service person was incredibly helpful and quite enthusiastic about Handmade Brigade’s mission. The website was easy to navigate and the first batch of hang tags we received was beautifully printed on quality cardstock.

We knew we found our printing partner. From a budget standpoint, knowing that UPrinting offers a 10% discount to nonprofits through their UCommunity program made our decision all the sweeter!”

We trust UPrinting to give us a quality finished product and help us present Handmade Brigade in its best possible light. Click To Tweet

Handmade Brigade continues to fulfill its mission to support America’s military with warmth and gratitude.

Liz reiterates that Handmade Brigade’s hats and scarves are physical representations of their gratitude, and if they bring a smile or keep someone a bit more cozy on a cold evening, wherever they are in the country or the world, then they know they’ve done their job.

If you are interested in making handmade hats and scarves for US military and veterans, visit their website and click on the ‘Join the Maker Movement’ button. You can also email Liz at liz@handmadebrigade.org for additional questions.

Find Handmade Brigade on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for more updates.

 

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