A snowstorm has blanketed the East Coast when Jeane Lutz wakes at 3:30 a.m. She has to catch the 5 a.m. Amtrak train from New Jersey to Washington, D.C. Her mission: to deliver 25 handmade quilts to injured veterans of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars being treated at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
Lutz makes it safely to D.C., hauling a luggage carrier with two huge bags stuffed with the quilts.
But when she arrives at the Longworth House Office Building, a staff member from the office of Rep. Albio Sires (D-N.J.) has bad news: Because of the four inches of snow, the Pentagon isn’t going to be able to transport Lutz to Walter Reed.
“Of course I was disappointed,— Lutz said. “I was looking forward to handing over these quilts to our injured soldiers.—
The idea to make quilts for injured soldiers came to Lutz in September 2007, when two of Lutz’s customers in her quilt shop, Country Quilt n Threads in Carteret, N.J., told her they were making quilts for victims of breast cancer.
“But when you hear about kids coming home — and these are kids to me, they are my kids’ age — I just wanted them to know that they are appreciated. War is hell, and I don’t want to see these guys suffer. If a little of something can make them feel better that’s important to me,— said Lutz, who learned how to sew at age 7 and started making quilts in her 20s.
Now in her 60s, Lutz said she witnessed how her friends and classmates were treated when they returned from the Vietnam War.
“They are still very bitter— about how they were treated, she said, and she doesn’t want that to happen to veterans of Iraq and Afghanistan. “I want them to understand that we appreciate what they’ve done and what they’re doing, and I just felt that that’s my way of giving a little bit extra,— Lutz said, grabbing a Kleenex from handbag to wipe away her tears.
Lutz admitted she did not do anything back then to help the Vietnam War soldiers, “but now that I am older, I have a better appreciation of how our soldiers suffered.—
In the past 13 months, Lutz has busied herself with collecting pieces of cloth from Carteret residents, teaching quilt making and putting together 12-inch blocks to form a quilt.
“Each of these quilts is unique. Some are hand-sewn. [With a] different pattern, some are sized to drape over the legs of wheelchair-bound soldiers,— she said.
Fifty women volunteered their time to make the 25 quilts. One quilt came from a group of women mostly in their 90s, three of whom have since died.
Lutz said when customers or prospective quilt makers come to her shop, she asks them to make at least two 12-inch blocks of pattern. As such, each pattern varies depending on the taste of the quilter. But knowing that the quilt will be given to soldiers, the quilt makers tend to choose fabric with red, white and blue colors and designs that symbolize nationalism.
At the back of each quilt is a piece of cloth showing a drawing of an American flag. Under the flag is a written dedication from the quilt maker thanking the soldier for his service.
Since the Pentagon could not drive Lutz to Walter Reed, Sires’ office called the House Army Liaison Office to accept the quilts on behalf of the wounded soldiers.
Given the job of delivering the quilts, 1st Sgt. Quin Waterman assured Lutz that the quilts will get to the soldiers, even if the snow kept Lutz from getting to Walter Reed. And patients from New Jersey, he said, would get priority.
Waterman, impressed by the beauty of the quilts, joked that he wants one, too.
Depending on the size and the design, handmade quilts like these can cost from $60 to $400. Lutz said that when she displayed the finished quilts in her store window, she got a number of offers from people who wanted to buy them. But Lutz told them that the quilts were for injured soldiers and instead asked prospective customers whether they wanted to participate in making the quilts for the soldiers.
With the help of Carteret Mayor Dan Reiman, Lutz plans to keep making and encouraging people in her community to make quilts for the soldiers. She hopes that a year from now she will be able to return to D.C. with more. And next time, she said, she wants to deliver them herself to the injured soldiers at Walter Reed.