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Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Volunteers spread care to hurting soldiers

Sunday, May 22, 2011

When I first heard that some middle school students in Unionville had decorated a quilt for a wounded soldier, I thought it might make a nice little feature story for the Times-Gazette.

But after I met Community Middle School principal Dee McCullough and read the letter of thanks he and art teacher Cynthia Donnelly had received from the aunt of the wounded marine, I began to see it was a much deeper story.

The story is about women volunteering their time and skills as sewers and quilters to show their support for our service men and women.

First, Brenda White of Unionville went to the middle school office and asked if Mrs. Donnelly would get the members of her seventh grade art class to decorate the cloth squares using fabric markers all furnished by White's volunteer group called Citizen SAM, or Citizen's Support for American Military.

The local Citizen SAM contingent involves a "group of senior ladies in Murfreesboro who meet at the First Baptist Church on Main every Tuesday."

Citizen SAM support comes in the form of gifts from home for military personnel serving abroad, especially those in war zones. White said her group makes different items for troops, such as helmet liners, neck warmers and cooling ties.

When I checked the organization's website, citizensam.org, I learned that the group had played a significant role in Operation Santa 2010, by making more than 40,000 Christmas stockings.

After the quilt squares were decorated by the Community Middle School students, White collected them and handed them over to another volunteer, Jill Shaver of Murfreesboro, who sewed the panels together. Included in the design is the image of a Purple Heart medal, which is awarded to any soldier wounded in battle. And the quilt is sized to fit a hospital bed or gurney, 4 feet by 6 * feet.

Then Shaver found a quilter with a longarm quilting machine to finish the quilt. This time it went to a member of the Smoky Mountain Quilters, Elayne Vognild in Crossville.

From there it was delivered to the Quilts of Valor Foundation in Washington, D.C., which with the assistance of the local Red Cross, gave the quilt to a marine in Walter Reed's ICU, who had been seriously injured by the blast of an IED in Afghanistan.

Do you see the pattern here? One volunteer to another volunteer to yet another -- all with the same desire to help a wounded soldier heal with a gift from their hearts.

It may seem quaint to some that anyone would go to such lengths to help someone they don't know. But these women want to show that someone cares for and about the young men and women who protect this country.

Catherine Roberts, founder of Quilts of Valor Foundation, said, "This is the reason we do this."

I think these women who have given so much of themselves to these projects deserve a huge vote of thanks from the rest of us who don't sew or quilt or knit.

By the way, the Murfreesboro group is involved with another national effort called Project Linus, "to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer 'blanketeers.'"

And I know from previous conversations with Frances Farrar, owner of the Knit Kit, that her Thursday evening knitting group frequently gets involved with such projects.

My hat is off to you all. Thank you.

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Kent Flanagan
Kent Flanagan joined the Shelbyville Times-Gazette in July 2009 after finishing four years as journalist in residence at Middle Tennessee State University in July. Before his venture into academia, Flanagan was bureau chief in Nashville for The Associated Press from August 1983 until November 2004. He's also been AP correspondent in Bismarck, N.D., news editor in Columbia, S.C. and newsman in Philadelphia, Pa. Flanagan is a graduate of Angelo State University, served in the U.S. Army in Germany and Vietnam and worked at newspapers in San Angelo, Texas, Fort Lauderdale, Fla., and San Antonio, Texas.

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