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Flag flown for Perham Quilts of Valor chapte

Eleanor Fischer, Net Kupferschmid, and Jean Sailer work on their quilts.

The inconsistent buzzing of sewing machines munching their way across fabric rings in the air.

On the opposite side of the world, the constant drone of an aircraft engine fills the skies as a flag is flown over Iraq in honor of the women sitting behind those machines.

The unique connection between the two was first formed three years ago. It was in September of 2005 that the Perham Quilts of Valor chapter was started. The women behind this group joined up with the national Quilts of Valor program to help provide quilts for men and women in the armed forces.

"In particular, the mission of Quilts of Valor is to help soldiers wounded in the war on terrorism," explains Echo Dockter, who serves as a facilitator of the group, along with Jenny Caughey.

The two both admit that when they first started the volunteer quilting effort in Perham, they had no idea it would still be going strong today. However, not only is their group maintaining momentum, they were also recently honored with a prestigious recognition of their local efforts.

Captain Kathryn Olson, who served in the 115th Combat Support Hospital in Iraq, happens to be the daughter of Carol Olson, one of the Perham quilters. Capt. Olson is a RN at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., which was one of the military hospitals that the Perham group sent their quilts to.

As Carol Olson explains it, her daughter purchased an American flag and submitted a request to have the flag flown over the headquarters of the Multi-National Corps in Iraq during Operation Iraqi Freedom--in honor of the Perham Quilts of Valor chapter. "She appreciates the hard work that goes into these quilts," Carol says of her daughter.

It was over Christmas time this year that Capt. Olson presented the flag to her mother. Carol's husband was a career military man, and Carol's brother also served in the armed forces.

In fact, it was one of her brother's experiences while recuperating in a military hospital that helped motivate Carol to join the Perham Quilts of Valor group over two years ago. Her brother, a Marine, was wounded in Vietnam. While recovering, he was presented with a knitted afghan, a special gift that Carol says he still has in his home--after all these years.

It is Carol's hope that the quilts she works on for today's soldiers will serve as a similar blessing. As Jenny describes it, "This is a real, tangible way for us to support our troops."

On average, the Perham group includes some 25 women who meet at the same time to work on their quilts. The women come from a handful of area communities, with some branching out over the years to start a new Quilts of Valor chapter in their own city.

The Perham group meets once a month, from 9 a.m. until 4 p.m., with many women coming and going throughout the day. They meet in the banquet room at Mulligan's, which is generously given to them free of charge for their monthly gathering.

Last year alone, the Perham Quilts of Valor chapter awarded 93 quilts. These handmade "thank yous" are primarily sent to military hospitals for distribution to wounded soldiers. The Perham group has also presented quilts to the families of the three local soldiers who have been killed since the group's inception.

"We've been told that some of the quilts were given to soldiers while they were home for awhile with an injury," Jenny says, "and then the soldiers took the quilts back with them to Iraq."

Although the women of the Perham Quilts of Valor chapter sew the quilts together, they are quick to mention that the project is nothing short of a community-wide effort. In order to even begin work on the lap-size quilts they create, they first need material to work with.

Area businesses, organizations, and individual families all help by donating money for material and to help cover the shipping costs to transport the quilts. For example, one Perham family has made the commitment to buy all of the batting the women need for the quilts.

"The majority of our quilts are then quilted by professional long-armers," says Jenny. "They all donate their time--which is huge."

As for the type of volunteers the group is seeking, they say there's a place for everyone. "You don't need to be a professional quilter to be here," insists Echo. If sewing a pillowcase is more your style, the group uses those to house the quilts in. Then there's all the cutting, and even ironing, that must be done for each quilt.

In total, the women estimate that there's around 12 hours of labor put into each quilt they send out. "This is a really small token of our appreciation for the huge sacrifice these men and women are giving," says Jenny.