ALLYN, Wash. - At a glance, they might just seem like simple little gifts to promote patriotism. The "Kissing Pillows," made by the Evergreen Chapter of the Embroiderers Guild of America, are hand-stitched and stuffed with care for American Soldiers and their families in the Joint Base Lewis-McChord area readying for deployment.
The stories these pillows carry, the lives they touch, and the love they contain from family members are the reasons these pillows are so much more than just patriotic novelties.
"We don't do it for any recognition. We do it because we care," said Nancy Behrendt, Evergreen Chapter outreach chairman.
It starts with the ladies of the Evergreen Chapter. In the living rooms of their homes and fellow embroiderers' homes, they diligently hand stitch the pillows. The process can be so time consuming, the ladies have to delegate some of the steps in the process to other members and volunteers.
In order to follow the rules of the EGA, the pillows must be handmade.
"These must be made with needle in hand. No machines," said Behrendt.
As the necessity for more pillows increases, so does the need for more supplies and helping hands. Many donations come and volunteers have stepped up in any way they can.
We have a lady that is not an embroiderer, but she volunteers her time measuring the thread lengths for each package, said Behrendt.
The packages contain enough thread for two pillows, the pattern and plans for the pillows, the front canvases and patriotic backing.
They also include a note from the ladies of the Evergreen Chapter explaining the purpose of the pillows, which are printed off and packaged by volunteers then handed out by the ladies to their fellow embroiderers to be stitched and sent back for distribution to the Soldiers.
Ladies from the Evergreen Chapter, like Behrendt, attend some of the ceremonies of departing units and pass out the "Kissing Pillows" to the Soldiers and family members. Usually the children will kiss the pillows and give them to their Soldiers to take with them on deployments.
"We've heard stories of fallen Soldiers having the pillows with them in their gear while in combat," Behrendt said.
"I feel a sense of pride that I was able to do a very small thing that means so much to the Soldiers," she said, with tears welling in her eyes. "A part of me has made their life just a fraction better."
"It's our way of saying thanks," said C.J. Welter, Greater Pacific Region representative for the Evergreen Chapter. "We want to support the people who have left their loved ones behind. We can't be there to fight, but we can be there to support."
A letter addressed to Debby Cox, Evergreen Chapter EGA President, stated, "I just wanted to say a heartfelt thank you for the wonderful pillows you made that were handed out at the predeployment workshop I just attended with my husband. Our 6-year-old made a bee line for your table and came running back saying, 'It's a kiss pillow!'
"She was all excited about how one of the ladies next to the table had explained to have her daddy kiss the pillow and then she can hug it whenever she misses him while he's gone. I just wanted to say thank you for the time and effort you put into the beautiful, thoughtful, and very useful pillows! They will receive a lot of lovin'! Thank you, also, for the compassion and thoughtfulness displayed for those of us in the military community. We appreciate it!"
Behrendt tries to reply with hand-written letters to all the thank-you letters she receives. She also follows the news on the units that the Evergreen Chapter donates the pillows to.
"You are taking a part of me with you," said Behrendt.
Since May, 2006, the Evergreen Chapter has handed out more than 8,500 pillows to outgoing units, including 42nd Military Police Brigade, 555th Engineer Brigade and 1st Special Forces Group.
"These pillows are but a small gesture," said Behrendt. "All of us should support our troops."
The Evergreen Chapter is a not-for-profit group, but they do accept monetary donations, supplies and volunteer help. Nancy Behrendt can be contacted at (360) 277-4113 and e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sgt. Dayan Neely is assigned to the 19th Public Affairs Detachment. This story appeared in Joint Base Lewis-McChord's weekly newspaper, the Northwest Guardian.