Cutler Ridge seamstresses ‘sew comfort’ for soldiers



e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service
      
 

Cutler Ridge seamstresses ‘sew comfort’ for soldiers

By Jenna De Marco | March 9, 2010 {1146}

A group of women from Cutler Ridge United Methodist Church near Miami is trying to make the lives of military men and women a little easier. And they’re doing it with needle and thread.

Since 2007, the women have been using their sewing skills to adapt clothing for wounded soldiers returning from service with Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Jean Welsh adapts a T-shirt for Sew Much Comfort. Photo courtesy of Cutler Ridge United Methodist Church. Photo #10-1412.

Their volunteer work is done through a national, nonprofit organization called Sew Much Comfort, which has provided adaptive clothing at no cost to injured service members since 2004. The special clothes are designed to fit over bulky prosthetics and casts that typical clothing cannot accommodate.

The five Cutler Ridge women who do the sewing are led by Jean Welsh, a member of the church since 1960. Welsh first learned about the project a few years ago when her local Whispering Pines Woman’s Club included Sew Much Comfort in a list of possible service projects.

“When I read it, it caught my eye, and it truly just touched my heart,” Welsh said. “You’re sewing something for these wounded servicemen and -women whose lives will never be the same, and this makes their everyday lives easier.”

Michele Cuppy, president and co-founder of Sew Much Comfort, said volunteers like the Cutler Ridge women are the heart of the organization. Cuppy shared a letter of appreciation she received from a family member of a wounded serviceman with e-Review.

“Our son was thankful for something to fit over his casts so he could look ‘normal’ while he recovered,” the family member wrote. “I can’t begin to describe the boost it gave emotionally to know someone cares. When these young men and women realize their health, career and entire future looks like it may be altered drastically, simply having a need met lifts the spirits more than words can describe.”

And with U.S. President Barack Obama recently ordering an additional 30,000 troops to Afghanistan, demand for the service will likely continue. The need for “adaptive clothing continues to grow as American military members continue to be injured serving in our current conflicts,” according to Sew Much Comfort’s media information.

Wounded military members arrive weekly in the Unites States for medical treatment of bullet wounds, burns, head and limb injuries, and amputations, the Sew Much Comfort Web site says. The U.S. Department of Defense reports more than 31,000 troops have been wounded in Operation Iraqi Freedom as of mid-December 2009 and nearly 5,000 troops in Operation Enduring Freedom.

Church member Nancy Biskup, who is also a quilter, said the suffering of service members motivates her to help prepare adaptive T-shirts.

“I thought that was the least we could do to help these young people,” she said. “They are coming out with terrible wounds.”

The Cutler Ridge group focuses on just one type of clothing — cotton T-shirts — although the organization offers a wide variety of items, including shorts, pants and golf shirts.

The seamstresses follow specific, copyrighted patterns provided by Sew Much Comfort. The adaptive clothing includes Velcro openings that are designed to open and close easily over bandages and casts, allowing individuals to dress themselves and providing for easier therapeutic access. Shirts, pants and shorts may be designed to open on the left or right sides or both.

The Sew Much Comfort Web site says the clothing “is an effort by our organization to provide our service members with symbols of our support and gratitude for their service.” The organization was launched after the mother of a cancer patient made adaptive clothing for her son and then progressed to creating similar clothing for wounded military members, Welsh said. Since then, more than 85,000 articles of clothing have been distributed, thanks to the help of more than 1,700 volunteer seamstresses.

Since 2007, the Cutler Ridge group has adapted 413 T-shirts, with the numbers increasing each year. Volunteers assist the seamstresses by cutting the shirts before they are sewn. The Whispering Pines Woman’s Club also supports the ministry by funding the cost of sending the completed T-shirts to the Sew Much Comfort distribution center, which it has done since 2007, Welsh said. Sew Much Comfort then ships the clothing to any location where wounded service members are recovering.

All of the T-shirts are new, pre-washed shirts donated by individuals and organizations in the community and occasionally by the Florida coordinator of the program. Each shirt must be free of religious messages, although leftover T-shirts from community events are often acceptable, depending on what is printed on the clothing, Welsh said. Her hope is to continue the project this year.

“I know every year they want to do more and more garments,” Welsh said. “For myself, I think we’ll go on collecting as many shirts as we can.”

The detailed work takes Welsh about 30 or 40 minutes per T-shirt, but she says the time is well spent.

“You get such heartwarming letters of thanks,” Welsh said. “You just feel your work is appreciated.”

Individuals interested in the ministry may contact Welsh through Cutler Ridge United Methodist Church at cruni@bellsouth.net or 305-235-6651. More information about Sew Much Comfort is available at http://www.sewmuchcomfort.org.

News media contact: Tita Parham, 800-282-8011, tparham@flumc.org, Orlando

*Parham is managing editor of e-Review Florida United Methodist News Service.
**De Marco is a freelance writer based in Nashville, Tenn.




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