Quilters reach out to families

Stella Sokolis, right, of Clovis, finishes and binds a quilt as Ellen Saccoia-Smith, left, and her daughter Brittany Smith, 15, work on the corner of a quilt Saturday for Operation Home Front at Patchwork House in Clovis. (Staff photo by Eric Kluth)

By David Arkin: CNJ Correspondent

A group of Clovis residents spent a good portion of Saturday working hard on perfecting every inch of their quilts.
The quilts weren’t for their family members or even close friends.

They were for complete strangers.

And that’s what makes the project so special.

The group of about 15 Clovis residents has been for the last several weeks making quilts for families who have lost loved ones in the war in Iraq.

So far, eight of their quilts have been sent to families.
“It must be so overwhelming to these families,” said Judy Mathews, one of the local quilters. “It must mean so much from the point of view that these are complete strangers who care enough to do this.”

Mathews and the other quilters are participating in a nationwide program called Operation Home Front. It’s been organized by Jessica Porter, a 19-year-old Florida woman, who is a member of the West Pasco Quilters Guild.

Porter started the venture on her own, but now seems to have people across the country helping her out.

Quilter groups send Porter their quilts and she puts a picture of a soldier on the quilt, along with a few words. She then makes sure the quilts go to families who have soldiers who have died in Iraq.

So far, 500 families have received quilts through the program. More than 800 U.S. soldiers have died since the start of the Iraq war in March 2003.

Those who send in quilts don’t know which family the quilts will go to, Mathews said.

Mathews said the Clovis quilters started meeting about a month ago. Their first meeting was at Cannon Air Force Base and their last two have been at the Patchwork House, which Mathews operates on Main Street.

Mathews said she enjoyed getting the opportunity to do something nice for someone who may be going through a difficult time.

“We are military wives,” she said. “As military spouses, our husbands go to remote assignments and this is just something we feel we can do for other military families.”
Dawn Buchholz of Clovis has made it to two of the three quilting sessions and said she is participating for a variety of reasons.

“We get a bunch of people with a lot of levels of quilting experience,” she said. “This is a great way to quilt and get involved. But I also thought this was a great idea because I have a brother who is on active duty and so am I.”

Buchholz said she imagined that families are touched when they receive the quilt.

“For those families it has to be nice to know that someone cares,” she said.

Ellen Saccoia-Smith of Clovis got involved in the project because her 13-year-old daughter Brittany, whose father is a retired military man, has lived through many deployments and wanted to give back to other military families.

“These folks have paid the ultimate sacrifice,” Saccoia-Smith said. “We just wanted to show our gratitude.”
On Friday night, Saccoia-Smith said she was quilting and realized how much her work was going to mean to someone.

“I had such a heavy heart with every stitch,” she said.
Saccoia-Smith, whose husband served three-month rotations between the Gulf War and the present Iraq war, said she couldn’t imagine what it must be like to find out that a loved one has been killed.

“As a spouse, I can’t imagine getting that phone call,” she said. “It really zeros in for me.”

Mathews said the quilting group doesn’t plan on meeting again until August, because of schedules.

But it is in need of many materials, including fabrics, thread and backing.