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Quilts of Valor comforts veterans

1009_FRT_Quilts1 Elizabeth Huwe/FOCUS Volunteers load the 1,200 quilts into a trailer and pick-up truck on Oct. 1 in preparation for the group’s quilt awarding trip to Ft. Bragg, N.C.

“Twelve hundred quilts!”

The announcement silenced chatter in the sewing workroom, and was followed by clapping and celebration.

“I knew you could do it,” cheered Jenny Caughey, a leader of the Comfort for Courage Dent-based chapter of Quilts of Valor. She is also the foundation’s state coordinator for Minnesota. “I knew you could do it!”

“Don’t you dare start for more,” one group member chided.

“She said 1,000 and we worked our fingers to the bone,” added a second.

“I’m not going to go higher than 1,200, I promise,” Caughey replied.

Last Wednesday, the volunteer group was packing up their finished projects, getting ready to depart on their fourth delivery trip.

Saturday, 44 quilters from Otter Tail County began their trip to Ft. Bragg, N.C. Once at the Army base, members of the Warrior Transition Battalion were awarded the 1,200 quilts, which had been so carefully made over the past 18 months.

Comfort for Courage was founded in 2005 with a grand total of 10 quilters who met near Paul Lake. It didn’t take long before the group outgrew that space and moved to the banquet room at Perham’s Lakeside Golf Club. The group now calls two rooms in the Dent Community Center ‘home.’

Two additional groups, based in Fergus Falls and at St. James Church in Maine Township, also sprouted off from the Perham volunteers.

In all, the three groups have more than 100 volunteers who meet for seven scheduled sewing days each month.

Through the combined efforts of these volunteers and other individual contributors around the state, more than 4,500 Minnesotan-made quilts have made their way into the arms of American servicemen and women through four distribution trips. As of press time Tuesday, a whopping 106,146 quilts had been distributed by chapters nation-wide since the foundation’s beginning in 2003.

The quilts vary in size. For the most part, they are throw-sized, with the foundation recommending quilts measuring 60x80 inches. A minimum size of 55x60 inches has also been set.

“Some are smaller because some soldiers will choose that, for instance, if they are wheel-chair bound,” said Caughey. Other times, queen-sized bed quilts might be made. They often go to veterans who will spend a lot of time in bed.

First, a volunteer picks out a pattern from the group’s file and begins to cut a kit of all the pieces needed for the front of a quilt. Only 100 percent cotton fabric, with adult-appropriate print, are used. From there, one of the group’s many “piecers” will sew the small blocks into the solid front.

The stuffing (batting) and back are selected and machine quilted together by a “longarm” volunteer. Finally, one of the “princesses” will daintily hand-stich binding around the quilt and add a tag with the names of the volunteers who made the blanket.

Quilts are then washed, folded, paired with a pillowcase and then stored for the next award trip.

In the summer, several children from a family who lives near Dent will come to the center to sew with the adults. Home economics classes, 4-H clubs and other volunteers also contribute by making the “presentation” pillow cases that go with each quilt.

“I am a firm believer that young people want to be involved in service projects, in giving back and paying forward,” said Caughey. “But often times they either don’t have the resources or they don’t know what to do and how to go about doing it. So, if we can involve them, it gives them a sense of accomplishment and participation… and it helps bring them up in that mindset of volunteerism.”

The thrifty quilters also salvage strips of fabric down to 2-1/2 inches wide and small pieces of extra batting, but, “Sometimes, we get down to pieces that even the most frugal of us is not going to use,” said Caughey, who shared her pride in the group’s ability to put everything to use.

Those rejected, tiny bits of fabric and thread go into an old pillow case. When the case is half full, it is sewn shut and donated to the humane society to be used as a pet bed.

Extra blocks from a kit are pinned on a cork board to be used in a later quilt. Nothing that can be potentially used is allowed to go to waste.

“The Perham-Dent community has been super, super supportive,” Caughey said. Their workspace in the Dent Community Center is leased at a minimal cost. “This is such a bonus for us, and again, they wouldn’t have had to do that.”

“Underwood is unbelievable, especially the American Legion,” she added. “I mean, that’s a town of 600 people, and I swear to you, 595 of them are somehow involved in their fundraiser. It’s great. That’s typical of the type of support we receive from just, everybody.”

Anyone interested in volunteering with Comfort for Courage or contributing in another way may contact Jenny Caughey at Jenny.Caughey@QOVF.org or 218-298-1727.

The group meets at the Dent Community Center on the first Wednesday and third Tuesday of each month from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.

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