Quilter, helpers make and give more than 1,000 travel pillows to U.S. troops

Posted March 24, 2011, at 6:01 p.m.

Imagine, for a moment, you are a member of the United States military, sitting on a plane taking you to your next assignment overseas.

You’re tired. You may be a bit nervous.

You just want to sit back, rest your head, relax, think positive thoughts about your loved ones and the country you are leaving.

You ask the flight attendant for a pillow to rest your head upon.

“Certainly,” he or she says. “That will be $3.”

Ouch.

You’re heading off to serve your country, and you have to pay for a pillow?

That’s what Maine Troop Greeters Ross Freeman of Winterport and Bill Dean of Bangor learned during one of their many trips to Bangor International Airport to meet arriving and departing troops.

Ross’ wife, Nancy Ronco, told me the men were at BIA talking with troops returning from Iraq and Afghanistan and discovered the troops “were a little perturbed that they had to pay $3 or $4 for a travel pillow to rest their heads on for a 14-to-22-hour flight.”

Ross and Bill continued that discussion, between themselves, and decided “they’d do something about this,” she said.

And they did. Military style.

“My husband volunteered me to make travel pillows,” Nancy chuckled.

Nancy owns Sun’s Up Quilting in Winterport.

She quilts for others, teaches quilting, and has done some projects for the Women’s Re-entry Center in Bangor.

Nancy said after Ross and Bill asked her to “make us some pillows,” she prepared a design for an 11-by-14-inch rectangular pillow and got the information out to groups such as the American Legion and the 40 & 8, to which she belongs, and the pillows and-or pillowcases have just been coming in.

“It’s an ongoing thing,” Nancy said of this project.

Basically, its pillowcases she receives, “because it’s too expense to have [people] fill them and send them, so they send them unfilled,” Nancy explained.

She also has friends who are members of a Monroe church who come and help her stuff the pillowcases with Polyfill she purchases at Jo-Ann Fabrics and Crafts.

“We fill those and I sew up the ends, but Polyfill doesn’t come cheaply,” Nancy said. She is pleased “several organizations have been giving us some money, but we’re still hunting and looking for donations of Polyfill.”

Some of the ladies also provide 50-percent-off coupons for Jo-Ann’s, and Nancy is working on contacting a company that makes Polyfill to see if she can get a discount.

Nancy brought one of the pillows to the office and I can attest to the fact that they are very comfortable.

They are stuffed as tightly as can be “because the soldiers like to squish them up as much as they can,” Nancy said.

Nancy and her husband, who is on the Troop Greeters’ calling tree, take the pillows to BIA whenever they are notified there is an outgoing flight, and they need approximately 250 pillows for each flight, she said.

Most impressive is that, with an outgoing flight on March 22, the number of travel pillows made and distributed reached 1,070.

“It’s really funny to watch [the troops]” when they receive the pillows, Nancy said.

“They don’t know what to think about us, at first, so we just explain we don’t think you need to pay $3 or $4 for a pillow if you’re fighting for our country.”

Nancy said the soldiers “love the animal prints, and they also like the grays and tan camouflage materials.”

Female soldiers “also like purple ones, but we do try to keep it in the manly colors,” Nancy said, while admitting “some ladies don’t listen to me and sometimes I get really gaudy prints!”

Nancy told of one soldier who “saw a Harley-Davidson print, and he scoffed that up like there was no tomorrow.”

Making these travel pillows gives Nancy and all who help her “a really good feeling,” she said.

“It’s nice to know the last thing they see is something from home, and it makes me feel good the last minute they leave the United States, they’ve got something from the U.S.”

All pillows have tags with the name of sponsoring organizations, such as the American Legion, and state that the pillow was made in the U.S.A.

If you want more information about this project, or would like to make a financial donation or other contribution, you can make a check out to Nancy Ronco, with Pillow Project on the memo line, and mail it to her at 25 Back Winterport Road, Winterport 04496.

More information is also available by calling the couple at 223-5950 or emailing rossfreeman@roadrunner.com.

Joni Averill, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402; javerill@bangordailynews.com; 990-8288.

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