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Group delivers quilts to soldiers

PERHAM, Minn. - Jenny Caughey proudly displayed an "I Support Our Troops" bumper sticker on her car for years.

But one day the sticker on her own vehicle caught Caughey's eye. And, for the first time, it really bothered her. "It struck me, 'What in the heck does that mean?' " Caughey says. "What are you really doing to help?"

The answer was to get involved in Quilts of Valor, a national foundation that aims to provide handmade quilts to any U.S. soldier wounded in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

More than 2,000 of those comforting comforters have been stitched by quilters in Otter Tail County. And a fundraiser slated for Saturday will help pay for materials and travel accommodations to bring even more quilts to soldiers.

"I don't know of anyone who hasn't been somehow touched by the tragedies of these wars, whether it's a neighbor kid or a sister's son or someone in your church," Caughey says. "I think for many of us, it is a tangible way to support the troops."

Caughey got involved in 2005 after hearing about a QOV group in Brainerd. She and a friend joined them, and were so impressed by their dedication that they patched together their own QOV group in Perham.

Quilters initially used fabric from their own stashes. As their project grew, they knew they needed to raise money to restock materials. Fortunately, Caughey says, that has never been hard. "If someone knows we are in need, the entire community has stepped up," she says.

Quilters found making the quilts rewarding, but delivering their handiwork doubly so.

In May 2010, they brought their first major shipment of 611 quilts to recuperating soldiers in Fort Knox, Ky. Their efforts were made possible by the Underwood American Legion and the Underwood Lions, who held their first St. Patrick's Day fundraiser to charter a motor coach to deliver the quilts.

Many soldiers remarked, "We didn't know anyone cared." One young man kept thanking the group for his quilt and its efforts. When Caughey responded they were happy to show their gratitude to the soldiers, he responded: "Yes, but you came here. You're spending time with us, and you're listening to our stories."

The group also sent a quilt to a young soldier from Perham, Luke Schmitz, who lost his leg in Iraq. Then in a rehabilitation center at Fort Sam Houston in Texas, Schmitz proudly displayed his quilt. As more people saw it, word spread about the good-hearted women in Minnesota who personally delivered the quilts they made.

The QOV groups were invited to bring their quilts to Fort Sam Houston and Fort Hood.

Through the community's efforts, the three groups were able to present another 1,026 quilts to wounded soldiers in October 2011.

Now, for the third year in a row, the Lions and American Legion members will raise funds to deliver quilts to more soldiers.

"Their point is they believe strongly in the impact of the quilts, but probably just as much in the impact of our visit," Caughey says.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Tammy Swift at (701) 241-5525