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'Quilted hugs of gratitude' honor service members

June 26, 2012

Franklin - For Karen Grochowski, giving back to the men and women who serve our country is not an option, it's a must.

Grochowski, who is a Franklin Public Library employee, has been active with the Support Our Troops volunteer group since she helped start it in October, 2004 after news of her son's deployment. In the past few years, the group expanded beyond providing care packages for service personnel overseas to taking part in the Quilts of Valor initiative.

"The military members are touched and humbled by the quilts," Grochowski said. "They can't believe people took the time to make the quilts for them. They deserve this and so much more."

The nonprofit Quilts of Valor aims to cover every combat service member and veteran who has been touched by war with comforting quilts.

Grochowski and the volunteer group will be donating four Quilts of Valor at the Franklin Civic Celebration on July 4.

"Beforehand, we will be giving two World War II veterans a quilt to display on their car as they go through the parade," Grochowski said. "We will be presenting quilts to two younger military members afterward at the veterans memorial."

All Franklin and surrounding community members are invited to attend the presentation and say "thank you" to the servicemen and servicewomen.

(Pictured: Andrea McElroy of Franklin presents a Quilt of Valor to Donny Eslinger, a friend of her son, Derek. Eslinger was wounded in combat.) 

Groups work in tandem

Quilts of Valor are typically red, white and blue, but sometimes include colors of specific military branches, such as Army green, brown and gray. The fabric is typically donated, or the volunteers purchase it themselves.

Each quilt has a tag, usually in the corner, that states the name of the person who pieced the quilt, the quilter, the date it was given, and the name of the recipient.

The Franklin volunteers have been meeting with others at Cedarburg's Ye Olde School House Quilt Shop to work to complete more quilts.

Tink Linhart, Southeast Wisconsin coordinator for Quilts of Valor, has been working with Grochowski for the past few years.

"The two groups of volunteers really complement each other," Grochowski said. "There is a lot of support between each other."

Both Grochowski and Linhart have presented Quilts of Valor to military members, and both said they have burst into tears while doing so.

"Most civilians don't have a clue what these men and women go through," Linhart said. "We want them to know that we care. This is such a small way to say 'thank you.' "

Linhart's group calls the Quilts of Valor "quilted hugs of gratitude."

Still sending care packages

Support Our Troops volunteers also send care packages overseas multiple times a year. There are group packages that contain a plethora of items that a military unit can divide among themselves, and individual care packages that are either food- and snack-based or filled with personal care items.

Each of the packages sent overseas includes a homemade pillowcase, a book, DVD and a letter about the Support our Troops volunteer group and what they do. Grochowski said the volunteers try to include a letter from a child whenever they can.

They have sent Girl Scout Cookies, magazines, golf clubs, baseball mitts, grilling tools, microwavable meals and many other items.

In the last month alone, the volunteers have sent more than 456 care packages, 365 of those going to Wisconsin National Guard soldiers deployed in Kosovo and Afghanistan.

And the volunteers continue to quilt.

"We want more people to get involved because the need for quilts is great," Linhart said. "It doesn't matter what your skill level is, there is a way to participate and give back to those who sacrificed so much for us."

Lend your support

WHAT: Support Our Troops will have a tent at the Civic Celebration to sell raffle tickets to raise money to cover the cost of shipping and materials for care packages and quilts.

WHEN: July 3 and 4

WHERE: Franklin's Lions Legend Park

CONTACT: Make a donation, learn more or volunteer by emailing Karen Grochowski at bdgrbudyfranklin@sbcglobal.net or Tink Linhart attinklinhart@gmail.com.

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