BROWNVILLE, Maine — Laughter and chatter interrupted the humming of sewing machines used by a group of Brownville and Milo women gathered on a recent Monday at a local Brownville church.
Dressed in colorful Christmas-themed tops, the 12 women pushed red, white and blue fabric under the pressure feet of their sewing machines as they chatted about recent events and family gatherings. While the women enjoy the camaraderie and share their love of quilting, their Mondays are devoted to others.
Each week, the Monday Morning Quilters gather to show their love in every stitch in every quilt they make for the Quilts of Valor Foundation, knowing that the quilts will be draped around the shoulders of a physically or psychologically wounded serviceman or woman.
The Quilts of Valor Foundation was founded in 2003 by a Delaware woman whose son was being deployed from Germany to Iraq for a year. Wanting to do something to comfort him, the woman appealed to quilters throughout the country to use their talents to make quilts to comfort the wounded.
The Milo and Brownville women stepped up to the plate.
“I may not know them personally, but I love each and every one of them,” Dorothy Brown, 69, of Milo said of the quilt recipients. “I wish I could be there to hug them,” she added, her voice quivering and her eyes watering. “Maybe it’s the motherhood in us — it never goes away.”
The quilts are so important to these women that they make sure nothing interferes with their quilting day, not even doctors’ appointments or, in Marie McSwine’s case, illness.
McSwine, 50, of Brownville, the youngest in the group of women ages 69-82, was suffering from an upper respiratory infection and wore a mask on the recent Monday as she quilted because she didn’t want to spread her infection.
“I have a daughter in the service, and a brother that was military. My father was in World War II. To me it’s just giving back to them,” McSwine said. “I can’t serve in the war, but I can at least let them know I’m proud of what they’re doing for us.”
Since 2009, the women have made and sent 38 quilts, some of which have gone to local men and others abroad in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to Joline Frazier, 68, of Brownville, who organized the group of quilters.
“It’s a hobby. It’s like golf, only this goes to a better cause,” Frazier said.
While the women make the quilt tops typically at their own expense, someone else does the quilting — such as retired Navy Cmdr. Amy Shannon of Lee and her volunteers. The women bind the quilts before they are shipped. Each quilt carries the name of the people who made it and where they live, as well as who received it and when.
Many of those who have received a quilt reach out to thank the quilters.
The first shipment from the Monday Morning Quilters went to the soldiers who tend to deceased soldiers when they are shipped home to the Port Mortuary in Dover, Del., Frazier said.
“You have brought many a smile and some tears to us, but mostly a feeling unsurpassed knowing the gratitude that America has for our efforts,” one soldier wrote to the Brownville-Milo group.
A Marine who received a quilt from the group in 2009 wrote: “As you walk through the barracks, your quilts and hundreds more like it are lining the racks of the marines in the 3rd Battalion 8th Marines. We can’t tell you how much it means to us.”
Those letters really touch their hearts, according to Lillian McLean, 74, of Brownville.
“It gives me the shivers when you think about it. You know, them over there, especially this time of the season when they’re away from their families.”
Nancy Belvin, 71, of Brownville, whose husband is a retired military serviceman, said she enjoys supporting the troops in any way she can. She said she knows what serving in the military is all about.
For Gwen Bradeen of Milo, it’s the satisfaction of helping someone wounded by war.
“I’m proud to be able to do something, to say thanks to them for all they’ve done for us,” she said.
For more information about Quilts of Valor, e-mail Frazier at firstname.lastname@example.org.