So far this year, the six Quilts of Valor chapters in New Jersey have given nearly 200 hand-made quilts to local veterans, and they’re just getting started.
A Quilts of Valor group in Mercer County called the Turtle Creek Peacemakers recently gave one of the quilts to Vietnam War veteran Joseph Barkley, who is 80 years old.
On a recent Saturday at Switlik Park Pavilion in Hamilton Township, a patriotic Quilt of Valor was used to cover the veteran.
A few days after he got his quilt, Barkley said, “It was an honor. I felt very honored and humbled.”
After Barkley graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1965, he went to Germany to do his first job. After that, he was sent to Vietnam. He was in the military for 15 years, and he said he was in charge of an airborne rifle company in the 173rd Airborne Brigade.
A Quilts of Valor is a handmade quilt that is either quilted by machine or by hand. The group says that it is given to “a Service Member or Veteran who has been touched by war.” On Barkley’s quilt, there was a label with the date and the names of the people who helped put it together, quilt it, and sew it together.
The handmade symbol of honor also has a note on it that says, “Thank you for your service and sacrifice in serving our country.”
Since it was started in 2003, the Quilts of Valor Foundation has set up dozens of volunteer teams across the country. These teams give their time and materials to make quilts for veterans in their area.
Since it started, the foundation says, more than 340,000 have been made and given out.
Quilts of Valor has six chapters in the state of New Jersey. The Turtle Creek Peacemakers is one of them. Sharon Rendfrey, who is in charge of the state, says that they go from Cape May County to Sussex County.
Rendfrey said, “They are all very committed to Quilts of Valor and making them, giving them to veterans and active service members, and honoring them for their service.”
Since the organization was started in 2018, a group of 22 volunteers from Turtle Creek have made more than 300 quilts for veterans, according to Debora Oriolo, who is in charge of the group.
In January, Turtle Creek finished their biggest project ever and gave 74 Quilts of Valor to veterans living at the New Jersey Veterans Memorial Home at Menlo Park in Edison.
The group that gave out the quilts said that 47 of the winners were Korean War veterans, 15 were World War II veterans, and 12 were Vietnam War veterans.
“Everyone wants to know how 22 people can make so many quilts.” And I’m like, “We all like to quilt!” Oriolo said. “Making quilts for these veterans is something that is near and dear to a lot of our hearts.”
Rendfrey is also the leader of the Quilts of Valor group for the Clifton Quilter’s Guild. She says that her father’s service in the U.S. Army and later in the Reserves made her want to help veterans in her area and become the state Quilts of Valor coordinator.
“When he died, I felt a little bit like I’d lost something,” Rendfrey said. “Then I found out about the Quilts of Valor Foundation, and I thought it was a great way to carry on his legacy of helping veterans, comforting veterans, and honoring veterans and service members while doing something I loved, which was quilting.
Volunteers often come from military families, but not all of them do, the group’s organizers said. Oriolo said that many of the volunteers like to quilt and want to show how much they care about war veterans.
Depending on how fast the quilters work, it can take anywhere from a few weeks to a few months to make a Quilt of Valor. Each one has to be made by a group.
The first step is for one person to make or choose the patterns for the quilt’s top. After the top is done, the batting and backing are put on it. Then it is put on a quilting machine with a long arm. Then, it goes to another volunteer who will sew on the label and tie it all together.
“It really takes a team,” Oriolo said. “I don’t think that one person ever makes a quilt and gives it as a gift.”
Quilts of Valor does more than just sewing and quilting to honor veterans. This means that you don’t have to be good with your hands to help out at a local chapter. Directors of the group said that many people help out by giving presentations, putting together nominations, or buying fabric for the quilters.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs says that more than 321,000 veterans live in New Jersey, but the quilting organization says it hasn’t reached all of them because many people don’t know about the local Quilts of Valor chapters.
“It’s still not as well known in New Jersey as it is in other states,” Rendfrey said.
On the Quilts of Valor nomination website, anyone can put forward a service member or veteran who has been affected by war. The foundation says that nominations are put in order by when the request was made and how well the local group can make the quilt.
The foundation’s state coordinator said that nominated veterans and their friends and family can either go to the local chapter where their quilt is being shown or do a presentation at home or on Zoom.
Barkley, a veteran of the Vietnam War, got a quilt because a family friend nominated him 43 years after he left the military.
Barkley said that there was a time when he didn’t like being honored for his service. But as more and more people told him “Thank you for your service,” he learned to appreciate the praise.
Barkley said, “When I first heard that, I didn’t know what to say. Then I realized that was a good thing, and I appreciated it.” “When people say that to me, I always say thank you, and sometimes I also tell them it was fun.”