In an effort to give back, a group in Pine River has joined in a national effort to make quilts for injured veterans.
Bunny Witt of Pine River organized the group in October, using word of mouth to draw in Carol Bushee, Carol Johnson, Betty Kangis and Barb Brezinsky to make Quilts of Valor (QOV).
“We wanted to get a group going in Pine River. We wanted to volunteer,” Bushee said.
Most recently, Lynne Stehr of Backus joined the group after seeing firsthand the impact these quilts can have.
After seeing a story about Stehr’s husband, Don, being reunited with members of his Vietnam War battalion after 40 years, Witt told Stehr she wanted to get quilts for the group. Witt contacted Marcia Stevens, QOV coordinator in Brainerd, and she made it a reality.
Stehr could not have predicted the emotion these quilts would bring.
“I looked at them and sat on the couch and bawled. They were so remarkable. That’s why I’m here. It’s to pay it back. It’s a remarkable thing. I saw the end result. These guys after all these years were given this token of these quilts,” Stehr said.
The quilts all have tags with information about the quilters. They also read, “Your sacrifice will never be forgotten and we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.” When they were delivered, Stehr saw her own reaction replayed by hardened war veterans in their 60s.
“I can’t express what it was like to see these guys receive these quilts. It was the most remarkable thing to be on the other end,” Stehr said. “If you look at these, the hands that made them and put them together, it’s a payback to these guys. When they receive them, these grown guys all in their 60s, they were teary-eyed.”
“That’s what I thought when I brought them to you,” Witt said. “It’s just overwhelming and the tears come.”
The quilts are made and distributed following guidelines from the QOV foundation. All materials and time used to create the quilts are donated.
“Everything is donations and volunteers. Nobody gets a salary anywhere down the line and it’s all handed out to wounded vets,” Witt said.
The Pine River group starts with fabric kits that Stevens and her Brainerd group put together. Then, members of the Pine River group take turns laying out patterns, pinning them together, pressing them and sewing them together in an assembly line type system. Quilt tops are then put into matching pillow cases the group sews and are sent to a “long armer” who sews the quilt tops to the batting and backing.
The Pine River group is just a small portion of those participating in QOV in the area. There are quilters in Nisswa, Jenkins, Crosslake, Breezy Point and elsewhere throughout Cass and Crow Wing counties.
“The kits go out all over the place. There’s hundreds of women that pick up kits,” Stevens said.
They don’t always work in groups, but together these quilters have already made 259 quilts that were returned to Stevens and then distributed to outpatient clinics, local Veterans Affairs offices, Northern Pines Mental Health Clinic, Eagle’s Healing Nest and various other distribution centers.
“We are not normally allowed to know who the veterans are with all the privacy issues,” Stevens said.
The Pine River group is looking for more members so they can make more quilts faster. They currently work on two quilts at a time, but with more people they can work on even more at once.
Joining does not require quilting or sewing experience. There are many jobs that do not require actual sewing, including ironing seams.
Stehr had never quilted before, but that didn’t stop her from joining the fledgling group several weeks ago.
This Pine River group meets the second and fourth Tuesday of the month at JJ’s Trading Post and Wireless Woods. The QOV program started in 2003 and has made 250-300 quilts annually for the last 10 years in the Brainerd area alone.
In Pine River, the group formed Oct. 3, though some of those involved have participated previously in QOV. They are on the verge of completing their first quilt together.