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With hours of handiwork and sometimes a hug upon delivery, Nancy Burns shows local veterans that their service is appreciated. The Quilts of Valor Foundation, in addition to seeking nominees to be honored with a quilt, is hoping to find a few good stitchers (training is available). Photo by Eric O’Connell/The Source

With hours of handiwork and sometimes a hug upon delivery, Nancy Burns shows local veterans that their service is appreciated. The Quilts of Valor Foundation, in addition to seeking nominees to be honored with a quilt, is hoping to find a few good stitchers (training is available). (Photo by Eric O’Connell/The Source | Buy This Photo)

Making Quilts to Warm Veterans’ Hearts

Published June 21, 2017

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When Nancy Burns retired almost four years ago, she decided to keep her options open while she searched for ways to use her time.

“I had been given the advice ‘Don’t do anything immediately’” Nancy says.

About six months into retirement, Nancy nominated a friend who had served in the Army to receive a quilt from an organization named the Quilts of Valor Foundation. When she met Jane Dougherty, the Quilts of Valor volunteer who delivered the quilt to her friend, Nancy was impressed with the foundation.

The Quilts of Valor Foundation donates quilts to active duty military members and veterans as an award for their service. Nancy had experience sewing—her grandmother her how when she was younger and Nancy had owned a fabric store for many years.

With Quilts of Valor, Nancy had found what she wanted to do.

“I wish I could sew 24 hours a day,” Nancy says with a laugh.

Nancy works with the Old Saybrook Piecemakers, a local group that works with the Connecticut Branch of Quilts of Valor. The group meets every Thursday from 12:30 to 3 p.m. at the Saybrook Pavilion at 150 College Street, Old Saybrook. Quilts of Valor also holds roving “Sew Days,” such as ones held last March and October at the Madison American Legion Hall.

“The people with Quilts of Valor are so great. They’re very appreciative of the military. It’s a privilege to work with them,” Nancy says.

Nancy says about 10 people volunteer their time with the group.

The group, which is run solely by volunteers except for a bookkeeper, receives a large volume of nominations of people who have served in the various branches of the military.

“Our job isn’t going to be done for a long time,” Nancy says.

To date, the entire Quilts of Valor foundation has awarded more than 159,000 quilts since it started in 2003.

The group will award members with quilts from every branch of the military whether or not they saw active duty. Nancy says the organization is putting forth a notable effort now to find and award World War II veterans with quilts due to their dwindling numbers. Quilts of Valor will also send quilts overseas to active military members.

Nancy says the quilts can be particularly helpful to members of the military dealing with post traumatic stress disorder, as they provide a comfort to those individuals.

When a service member is awarded a quilt, they are wrapped in it and then given a hug. Depending on the preference of the service member being honored, the awarding can be done in private or in group settings. When awarded the quilt, Nancy says “people are so appreciative” and that it “helps people to know other people care about them.”

The quilts have three components to them, a top piece with the pattern and stitching, a middle padding, and the backside. The topsides with the patterns and stitching are often decorated to signify military themes. There are also squares that are signed with encouragements or thanks for service. Nancy says she has even seen service dogs “sign” the quilt by having their paw prints outlined on the square.

The quilts also have the name of the recipient, the branch of military in which they served, and the years they served.

The service members are also given a letter with their quilt, which Nancy says she tries to personalize for recipients as opposed to just issuing a standard letter to everyone. In the letter, Nancy gives information about the Quilts of Valor Foundation, information about the quilt such as who made it, and washing instructions.

“We want them to feel special,” Nancy says.

Nancy says she also encourages the recipients to use it, as opposed to just storing it. Nancy also notifies the national Quilts of Valor Foundation of who is being given a quilt, so that the members can be cataloged.

Nancy says her favorite aspect of working with Quilts of Valor is “meeting the veterans and awarding them. It’s very cathartic knowing how appreciative and how deserved they are.

“They deserve more than what they’re getting,” Nancy added.

When she’s not sewing, Nancy says she likes to walk the trails at Hammonasset Beach State Park, and just spend time with her husband David—and with her new German shepherd puppy.

Nancy say the Piecemakers are looking for new members to sew and are willing to train individuals, as well as supply the kits and fabrics. More information can be found at the Quilts of Valor Foundation website

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