Army Sgt. Brian Evans, 25, knew something was afoot when his parents told him to put on his uniform Thursday morning.
But when he walked into Turlock’s Cloth and Quilts to a reception from Quilts of Honor – a local organization devoted to gifting quilts to America’s Heroes – he was more “honored and surprised” than he could have imagined.
“Thank you, because not very many people, especially outwardly, show their gratitude,” Evans said as he received a red, white, and blue quilt, resplendent with hand-quilted eagle heads in the corners.
Gifting quilts to American soldiers has been a tradition since the Civil War, when families would craft them as bedrolls for sons heading off to war. Those quilts were so beloved that, when the soldiers died, they would be buried with their quilts.
Quilts of Honor was formed in March 2009 by director Gail Belmont after five years sewing quilts for a different organization, in hopes of carrying on that tradition.
“We honor those that have served our country,” Belmont said.
The new organization was founded in large part because Belmont thought it would be easier to give quilts locally. Now, 75 percent of Quilts of Honor’s quilts go to local, Northern California-based soldiers.
But the organization’s quilts also go out across the nation to those injured in combat, suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and who have served multiple tours of duty – like Evans. Some special individuals have received Quilts of Honor quilts as well, including some of the surviving Navajo codetalkers from World War II.
Belmont was driven to start Quilts of Honor because of her time serving the Army during the Vietnam War. Back then, it was among her tasks to play “Taps” for the fallen soldiers.
“During that era so many were forgotten,” Belmont said. “I didn’t want these guys to be forgotten.”
Quilts of Honor has produced 50 quilts in the past two years in a team effort. Many longtime quilters from the Turlock Quilt Guild help to piece together tops, while Belmont herself – a longarm quilter – quilts together many of the quilts, featuring her signature eagle head embroidery. The quilts can take as little as two weeks to complete, or as long as two months, depending on complexity.
“The nice thing about this group is everyone gives from the heart,” Belmont said. “It’s a labor of love.”
Quilts of Honor could always use additional volunteers, patriotic fabric, and money to expand its offerings, though, Belmont said.
For Evans, who has served in the infantry for seven years, his job is a labor of love too. Having already served a tour in Iraq from 2004 to 2005 and in Afghanistan from 2008 to 2009, Evans will head back to Afghanistan in February, quilt in tow.
“I’m proud to do it,” Evans said. “It’s a job to me, but it’s an honor too.”
For more information about Quilts of Honor, or to join the organization, visit www.quiltsofhonor.org or call Mary Ann Bloom at 604-8674, Dolores DeHart at 667-9372 or Barbara Barker at 632-3052.
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