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Connie Vandermay/FOCUS Arlene Craig and Phyliss Kusnierek sit at their ma-chines and piece quilt tops together. Quilters bring in their own machines for their twice monthly sewing days.

Taking quilts, receiving memories

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When walking into the Dent Community Center on a Tuesday or Wednesday morning, the sound of sewing machines and laughter ring down the hallways.

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Quilters from all over the county meet there twice a month, cutting, piecing, and sewing quilts.

Though they have no specific requests for their quilts yet, they are working on being prepared for when the need comes. As quilter Jenny Caughey said, "It always does."

One such need was recently fulfilled when 32 volunteers from the Quilts of Valor delivered 1,056 quilts to Fort Hood and Fort Sam Houston in October.

The Warrior Family Support Center (WFSC), a privately funded facility, was the last stop for the quilters.

WFSC provides a safe place for severely wounded warriors to heal. It also provides an environment where families can join their soldiers and help them recover.

WFSC is run almost completely by volunteers; in fact, there is a two year waiting list just to be a volunteer.

Dian Zeck said it was great to see American people building a facility to offer much needed support for veterans and their families. Zeck remembers when her own husband returned from Vietnam and did not see that support from the communities.

Supporting troops how they could best, quilters poured their hearts into the quilts they left behind for injured soldiers, and returned home with inspiring memories.

Linda Dynan related her experience: A triple amputee, who lost both legs and an arm, came in for a quilt. Dynan helped the young vet choose a quilt, and then thanked him for his service. She was a little surprised when he said, "I would do it all again."

Across the way, Caughey was visiting with that young man's mother: "I told her that I could not imagine what she has gone through."

Then the mother told Caughey, "He left an awful lot of pieces in Afghanistan, but we are thankful for the pieces that were sent home."

Because of the various injuries and mental states, the quilters found they had to be careful when it came to physical contact. For some emotionally wounded vets, hugs, though offered with love, would cause more harm then good.

With this in mind, the ladies left the decision up to the soldiers. They would ask, "A hug wouldn't hurt, would it?" Many, many soldiers accepted those hugs. One even replied, "A hug would help a lot."

For some of the quilters, striking up a conversation with an injured vet was really difficult. Others, like Mary Ann Strauch, just needed an opener.

"I like your legs," Strauch said. The veteran's prosthetic legs were covered in Georgia bulldog decals.

Strauch relates how at first this veteran seemed shy and nervous, but after she complimented his legs, he really perked up.

While helping the soldiers pick out quilts, some quilters got to see their own quilts travel out the door. Seeing who received their quilt and visiting with the soldier was pretty memorable.

Zeck got the opportunity to introduce herself to two vets who chose her quilts. She even took a quilt order for a baby quilt to be mailed at a later date.

Visiting with these injured soldiers, the quilters said, was an emotional but memorable time.

Debra Larsen related how encouraging it was to see family members of the injured with these soldiers during recovery. One mom went to the family kitchen and made her son bread pudding, at his request.

Caughey said it's heartwarming to hear other quilters relate that it was not about the trip, but the experience with the soldiers that inspires them to keep quilting.

Most of the quilters, like Mona Aafedt, were encouraged to go on the trips by family members who have served in the military. Some ladies just like to quilt, especially for a good cause.

Anyone who wants to help in the mission to make a homemade quilt for every injured soldier from the Iraq and Afghanistan wars is encouraged to join Quilts of Valor.

The first Wednesday and third Tuesday of every month, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., the local Quilts of Valor group meets at the Dent Community Center. There is also a sewing group that meets every Tuesday morning from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at St. James church in Perham.

For those who like to hand piece quilts, but can't come to a group session, kits are available to be sewn at home.

Quilts of Valor quilts are hand pieced, which requires measuring, cutting, ironing, piecing, and quilting. The various steps in a quilt process allow everyone to help, regardless of sewing experience.

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