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Project to make scarves for Iraqis clicks 'like wildfire'

The click-clacking can be heard in halls of Brighton High School, the living room of her home and the Relief Society room at her church building.

Everywhere she goes, Jan Moncur's knitting needles go along with her.

For, in a flurry of brightly-colored spun yarn, Moncur is on a mission: to make 1,000 scarves for Iraqi widows and orphans in need.

The project started in November, with Jan personally resolving to knit 100 scarves to send overseas. But when she posted her project on, a Web site offering service ideas for young women and Scouts associated with the LDS Church, the goal increased tenfold.

"It became like a wildfire — people have just been so generous," said Moncur, a student body adviser at Brighton High School.

As word about her project spread, everyone around Moncur wanted to help.

Knitters from local LDS Relief Society and Young Women programs started donating, and non-knitters like her students learned to knit together before school started, surprising their teacher with handmade scarves at Christmas.

Packages have begun arriving at her doorstep, too — from men learning to knit on YouTube, Boy Scouts collecting scarves for their Eagle projects and unsuccessful knitters offering fleece-cut scarves.

Though her son, Philip Christensen, was killed in an Army training accident at Fort Riley in April 2005, Moncur said the project has been a healing process that has increased her love for people she has never met.

"My son would write and tell me that the media didn't always tell how appreciative the Iraqi people are," Moncur said.

Moncur began her project after meeting seven Iraqi women at a "Hugs for Healing" tea, along with seven Utah Gold Star Mothers who have lost their military sons in the war with Iraq.

The tea was hosted by Families United Toward Universal Respect (FUTURE), a nonprofit group created by a Virginia LDS couple Fareed and Joan Betros in 2005. Its goal is to strengthen Iraqi families by teaching women a three-tiered program patterned after the LDS Relief Society.

Three of the other Gold Star Mothers — Colleen Parkin, Carol Thomas Young and Amy Galvez — are planning a trip with FUTURE in mid-May, and Moncur decided to join the trip when she realized she could offer personal "gifts of love" to women experiencing similar feelings of loss overseas.

"Our sons loved those people, and we learned to love them, too (at the tea), as we heard them speak and tell us they were appreciative of what our sons had done," Moncur said.

At the "Hugs for Healing" tea, Moncur learned that there are 3 million widows and 2.5 million orphans in Iraq, many of whom have lost family members in war.

When Moncur learned that many of these Iraqi women were offering prayers for American soldiers she said it opened her eyes to another world, of which she is proud her son could take part.

She said she hopes the scarves will knit our two countries together, helping both sides mend broken hearts.

Volunteers helping Moncur with her project have experienced similar switch in perspective.

Moncur's Cottonwood Heights neighbor, Marilyn Cowan, said she has felt connected to these Iraqi women as she helps organize neighborhood knitting parties and collects scarves to deliver to Moncur's home.

"It's an interesting concept to give comfort to those families that experience the same sorrows of a conflict that we're involved in on the other side," Cowan said. "This is a small way to say we empathize with their loss and let them know we're thinking of them."

Allyson Stoddard, a co-worker of Moncur, said she thinks people have been quick to join in the project because they know anything Moncur gets her hands on is a good cause.

Though Stoddard is knitting 10 scarves to donate to the cause, she said her efforts pale in comparison to Moncur, who "gives 200 percent to everything she does."

How to help

Those who would like to donate scarves to Jan Moncur's project can e-mail her at to coordinate a pick-up, or drop them off at Brighton High School's main office, 2220 E. Bengal Blvd., Salt Lake City.