By Marisa Petrich/Northwest GuardianNovember 17, 2011
JOINT BASE LEWIS-MCCHORD, Wash. -- In spring of 2002, Marty Alexander started seeing a change at Joint Base Lewis-McChord's Grandstaff Library.
"We noticed some of the kids in the children's room acting differently," she said.
A few of the younger patrons were acting out when they normally would have sat quietly with a book ... and the reason for the shift wasn't difficult to figure out. These kids had deployed parents, and Alexander had a way to help.
Starting in April of that year she and a group of volunteers got together to start Quilts for Kids, a one-of-a-kind program at JBLM. The blankets they made weren't full-sized, but they offered those having the most trouble something portable and comforting (and washable) to carry with them wherever they went.
They began distributing them to family readiness groups and Army and Air Force agencies that worked with children to give to kids that needed a little extra help, and they've been doing it ever since.
"This is a great cause and a definite need ... To me it makes me think of hugs," said Debi Shultz, a volunteer quilter that came to help last week.
In the nearly 10 years since Alexander founded the group it's been through a lot. She's retired from her work at the library, volunteers come and go, and they've been in and out of workspaces (currently they bring all their materials into a small workspace at Grandstaff each week).
That hasn't stopped them from creating 1,085 quilts to date, though -- that's nearly 150 a year.
"We're all military Families and it's important to us to help our military Families as much as we can," volunteer Joan Breitinger said.
She's been quilting with the group since the very beginning, and the family feel is really what it's all about. She and other members of the groups have brought kids and grandkids to help as they piece together blankets assembly-line style. Each one takes about six hours to complete, and are made in batches of 10 over the course of three weekly meetings.
The quilts are all about the same. Each one has a piece of patriotic fabric in the middle, with bright, interesting squares of fabric around the edges. The blankets are pre-washed before they're given away, and all of them come with a personalized Quilts for Kids label. Most of all, the volunteers regret that there simply aren't enough for all the kids that could use one.
"It's comforting, it's just snuggly and comfy," Alexander said.
In fact, the group is comforting more than just children. Participants are not required to know how to sew before they arrive, so absolutely anyone is welcome to come. For the past few weeks that's included Sylverine Caprietta, whose husband is deployed to Iraq for one year.
"It helps me from grieving ... I just look forward to Thursdays," she said.
She came for a good cause, but fell in love with quilting right away. She knows this is a hobby she can take with her wherever she ends up.
There's also the aspect of companionship. The group of women has all kinds in it, including the occasional active-duty Soldier that comes to sew in uniform. They work together around the table in a borrowed space, teach each other techniques and get to know each other.
It's something Alexander has always appreciated. She prefers to stay behind the scenes when she can, but she's proud of the work she's doing.
"I very much still, after all this time, still look forward to Thursdays," she said.
Marisa Petrich: email@example.com