Tears fall at every quilt presentation ceremony.
Jan Martin heads Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor, which gifts personalized quilts to veterans in the Central Missouri area. Emotions run high at the two annual presentation ceremonies.
"With the Vietnam veterans, over and over they tell us that nobody ever welcomed them home," Martin said.
Currently, the group presents quilts to 80-120 veterans each year. Each veteran is given the chance to speak at the ceremony, and sometimes they share information about their experiences that even their families had never heard.
"We had one World War II veteran, he was 92, and he got on a roll," Martin remembered. "His wife was sitting in the back row making the 'zip it' gesture. She goes, 'I've never heard any of this before.' He was sitting next to a 24-year-old veteran and they were just enjoying the heck out of each other."
MidMoQOV is one of many Quilts of Valor Foundation chapters. The foundation was started in 2003 by Catherine Roberts, whose son, Nathaniel, was deployed in Iraq. She had a dream about a despairing young veteran who perked up when wrapped in a lovingly made quilt and got to work making quilts for vets in real life.
Initially targeted toward veterans who had been injured in combat, the mission grew to encompass any serviceperson who has been touched in any way by war, Martin said.
"There really are no restrictions in eligibility," she added.
Martin started the Mid-Missouri group in 2009 after hearing about Quilts of Valor in a quilt-shop newsletter.
"I kept thinking, 'I can't, I'm working full-time and taking care of my 98-year-old mother and I have two sons in college,'" she said. "Well, I never got any less busy, and I decided I'd have to either do this or not."
She approached a fellow VA nurse, and the two jumped right in. Now, the group has grown to 35 members.
MidMoQOV members meet on the first Tuesday of each month at 10 a.m. at Satin Stitches Sewing and Embroidery in Columbia. About 15-20 show up each month to chat, enjoy refreshments and work on quilts.
"Our meetings are very open," Martin said. "You don't need to know how to quilt. We have people in our group who are 90 and people who are much younger."
The less-experienced can help with ironing and other basic tasks while learning the ropes.
Quilts range in size from twin-sized to queen-sized. The group tries to customize each for its recipient.
In one case, group member Teri Haney recounted, the group was working on a quilt for a former aircraft mechanic.
"I found some material with airplanes on it," Haney said. "His wife told us that he's always cold at the nursing home, so, though it's a little unusual, I backed it with fleece."
In another case, a veteran, whose mother was a prolific quilter, asked for a table runner instead, as he didn't think he had a place for yet another quilt.
Each quilt is made with quality materials — they're meant to be used, Martin said — and labelled on the back with the veteran's name, rank, years of service and other relevant information.
"You think each time, 'Are we doing enough?'" Martin said.
Each time, the joy on recipients' faces reassures her that they are.
Depending on the circumstances, MidMoQOV sometimes makes presentations to individuals or small groups. When two apartment complexes for homeless veterans opened in Columbia, the group made 70 quilts for their residents and cooked a meal.
"One veteran wanted to give something back to us, so he made a whole tray of chocolate-dipped Fig Newtons," Martin said.
The culinary experiment wasn't exactly a success, but it was the gratitude the gesture showed that warmed her heart.
There are several ways to get involved with MidMoQOV.
Forms to nominate a veteran to receive a quilt may be picked up at Satin Stitches (705 Vandiver Drive, Columbia) or downloaded at midmoquiltsofvalor.org.
All are welcome to join the monthly workdays.
Donations of quilting supplies and money are also welcome. Some quilt shops offer discounts for QOV materials. Mid-Missouri Quilts of Valor is a tax-exempt nonprofit.