As Soldotna Middle School's home economics teacher, Jennifer Tabor knows her way around a needle and thread. Sewing is not just part of her career, she says, it's a hobby and a talent; a talent she and others in the community are able to use to comfort wounded veterans.
"It's hard to do something here," she said. "And I sew, so this is where I can take my talents."
Tabor came across a full page advertisement in the Peninsula Clarion on Veteran's Day for the Patriotic Pillow Project. The ad directed her to the project's Web site and after reading about it, she was able to present two pillow cases to Soldotna Community Schools director Carmen Triana.
"I went to Carmen and said we should do this," Tabor said, adding that the Web site contained explicit directions on how the pillow cases should be made. "I just printed them off (and) made a couple so Carmen could show them around town to people that were interested."
The Patriotic Pillow Project is a nationwide effort to provide comfort to soldiers who were wounded in Iraq. Each pillow is handstitched to resemble Old Glory and is sent along with a handwritten thank you note to men and women who defended their country. According to the project's Web site, the folks behind the project have received more than 9,850 pillows and have delivered more than 8,500 since the project began in 2004.
On Feb. 23, Tabor set up sewing machines in her classroom and had different stations where non-sewers could press and cut the fabric or create the thank you cards. From 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., volunteers created 20 pillows. Tabor said the instructions she printed off the project's Web site was similar to a pattern and allowed her to show beginners exactly how to cut the fabric and make the thank you cards. Even though the group already put together 20 pillows, Tabor said she hopes the volunteers will present the project to church and sewing groups of their own.
"Twenty pillow cases (is) a good start," she said. "We just wanted to have a day to get started. (We hope) that it will just snowball."
Triana said she's holding onto the 20 pillow cases in hopes that more will trickle in. By getting the word out, she hopes other groups, such as the Veterans of Foreign Wars Ladies Auxiliary, would want to pitch in as well.
Rather than mailing the pillows to the project's headquarters in Chicago, Triana said she hopes Soldotna's pillows can be used to benefit Alaska veterans. She said Tabor heard of a transitional home for wounded soldiers in Alaska that could use the pillows.
"A lot of them transition back into the military and (the home) is full," Triana said. "(We're) hoping that maybe in working with the Patriotic Pillow Project, we could find a way to keep them in Alaska."
Laura McIndoe, another home economics teacher at Soldotna Middle School, said she helped make pillows and set up the night before the volunteer session. The Patriotic Pillow Project is a great way for elders and others in the community to help out even if they can't sew, she said.
"I just think it's a nice comforting thought from home," she said, adding that if volunteers wanted to sew, no sewing experience is necessary. "If you can learn how to sew a straight line, you can sew strips together. If you can use a drill, you can use a sewing machine."
Apart from the fact that a Community Schools event is going to help a good cause, Triana said she's happy that someone from the community came up with the idea in the first place. Community Schools isn't just a program that offers classes, it's something members of the community can use to pass on their hobbies and talents to others.
"It's really like clay," she said. "It's molded by the community, by what they want and what they ask for."
The Patriotic Pillow Project isn't the only example of the community utilizing the Community Schools for their own projects. Triana said a representative from Hope Community Resources asked to set up a gym night that would give his clients, developmentally disabled individuals, a chance to exercise and shoot some baskets.
"He called me just looking for a room to use," she said. "(We) partnered with Hope and we are offering a family night, an open gym every Monday."
Triana said anyone who's interested in putting together an activity through Soldotna Community Schools should e-mail her. Anyone with a hobby or a talent like scrapbooking or knitting could teach a class.
"(It's) kind of that finger on the pulse," Triana said. "What does the community need? What does the community want? Let's put it together and make it happen."
For pillow patterns, volunteers can visit www.patrioticpillowproject.org or e-mail Triana at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jessica Cejnar can be reached at email@example.com.
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