By Staff Sgt. C. Todd Lopez
ALEXANDRIA, Va. (Oct. 03, 2005) -- Sewing circles are not a thing of the past.
On Tuesday nights, in a suburb just outside of Washington, D.C., a half-dozen women -- sometimes more -- gather to talk about their week, share a few laughs and sew.
They are not sewing for themselves or their families, however. They are volunteers of the relatively new "Sew Much Comfort" program that began earlier this year. Together, they help modify clothing for use by servicemembers in military hospitals nationwide.
Most servicemembers return from an overseas deployment in one piece, but some are not so lucky. Improvised explosive devices, land mines, grenades and weapons fire all contribute to loss of life and limb for American servicemembers abroad. Those who do return home after having lost limbs or suffering burns to their bodies often face long recoveries in military hospitals.
"You cannot go to one of these hospitals and talk to one of these Soldiers and not be moved and not want to do everything in your power to help," said Maj. Sandra Edens, an Air Force reservist assigned to the Pentagon and a Sew Much Comfort volunteer. She also serves as program coordinator for the East Coast region.
"This is something I do -- I sew," Major Edens said. "You can take out your checkbook and write a check, but this is something I can sit down and put a little of myself into."
For some military patients, a long stay in the hospital means wearing nothing but hospital gowns for a long time. Medical equipment, like a fixator on a damaged leg, makes it impossible to put on a pair of pants. And for those with burns on their bodies, pulling on a shirt can prove very painful, Major Edens said.
"With burn victims, their skin is very sensitive," she said. "And a fixator is an external brace, like a metal halo. It's big, and you can't put your foot through a normal pant leg."
Sew Much Comfort volunteers modify civilian clothing to circumvent those issues. Seams are ripped out of shirts, shorts, pants and underwear. In their place, volunteers put fabric fasteners or snaps, depending on the individual needs of a servicemember, Major Edens said.
The adjustments to the clothes allow servicemembers burdened with medical equipment or burns to put on a regular pair of pants or shirt and toss the hospital gown aside, if only for a few hours. It also makes it easier for them to get dressed without assistance.
"With the openings in the modified clothing, you can kind of drape it around instead of having to move and manipulate into the clothing," Major Edens said. "It's all about trying to make them more comfortable, and help them dress themselves. It just gives them more independence."
Master Sgt. Yvette Smith, a reservist at Bolling Air Force Base, D.C., volunteers about three hours a week with the Sew Much Comfort program. She recently underwent treatment at Walter Reed Army Medical Center where she encountered injured servicemembers who had returned from overseas.
"I wished I could do something to help them," she said. "For me, it was about being able to do something, to give back a little bit, and to make somebody's life a little bit easier.
“I know we are just making shorts and pants, but these guys have been through so much,” she added. “With these little pieces, I hope I can help a little bit. That's what I get out of this -- to help one troop that came back injured."
Sew Much Comfort takes requests for specially modified clothing through the program's Web site and from nurses or family members. Also, program volunteers who deliver clothing to those in need talk to other patients.
"They are really good about talking to them," Major Edens said. "If they see somebody new who has an injury, they talk to them about what they need. We also take extra stuff and leave it with points of contact at the hospitals to distribute as needed."
Requests even come from servicemembers themselves through e-mail, especially when they want to leave the hospital to spend time with their families, said Capt. Angie Robertson, a Sew Much Comfort volunteer assigned to the Pentagon.
"We had this one guy e-mail us who wanted a pair of shorts so he could go to Disney World with his family, which was pretty cool," Captain Robertson said.
Captain Robertson volunteered for the Sew Much Comfort program to give something back to her country. But in doing so, she said she found something more. When she signed up to help out, she did not know any of the other volunteers. Now that they have worked together, they know each other well.
"That’s fun, because you create a sisterhood. (It is) a bonding moment for us as we are doing something good for our country," she said.
Volunteers for the program are located in several locations throughout the United States, including Iowa, Florida, Colorado and Alabama. There is even an additional group in Washington, D.C. Since February, the program has provided between 1,500 and 2,000 items to injured servicemembers.
Major Edens said the program currently needs money, volunteers to sew clothing and donations of civilian clothing like shirts, sweatshirts, pants and underwear. Clothing donations should be new and in large sizes.