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Volunteers stitch comfort clothes for wounded soldiers

Shirleen Harms sews adaptive clothing for a wounded soldier as part of the
sewing ministry at First United Methodist Church in Oviedo, Fla.
A UMNS photo by John Gordon.

By John Gordon*
June 3, 2008 | OVIEDO, Fla. (UMNS)

After sewing a pair of boxer shorts for more than two hours, Shirleen Harms pauses to "say a prayer for the young man that’s going to wear this."

Jeffrey Lightbourn, a patient at U.S. Army Landstuhl Regional Medical Center in Germany, tries on clothing developed by Sew for Comfort founder Ginger Dosedel.
A UMNS photo by Thomas Warner,
LRMC Public Affairs.


"And I pray that he’s going to be strong enough to heal," Harms adds.

Harms is part of a sewing class at First United Methodist Church in Oviedo that makes adaptive clothing for soldiers who have lost limbs or need special attire to fit over casts or medical equipment. The sewing class is part of Sew Much Comfort, a U.S. organization that distributes adaptive clothing to military hospitals.

"They need to know that we still see them as whole entire people," says Margaret Morris, a church member in the sewing group. The soldiers are "people first, but with a disability—not a disability attached to a person," she says.

At military hospitals, hospital gowns are often the only clothing available, but are drafty and do not cover many patients adequately. The adaptive attire gives wounded soldiers an alternative and is designed to make their recovery comfortable, both physically and emotionally.

"Anyone who’s ever been in a hospital realizes that a hospital gown doesn’t give you much dignity," says Joy Campbell, regional director for Sew Much Comfort in Florida. "And we’re talking about injuries to our troops that are of such a degree that they are not going to get well within a week, a day, a month."

Joy Campbell (right) of Sew Much Comfort talks with Pat White, coordinator of the church's sewing ministry. A UMNS
photo by John Gordon.


Founded in 2004, Sew Much Comfort is trying to meet the needs of about 30,000 soldiers wounded in the Iraq war. Campbell says about 30,000 items were made and shipped in 2007 by the organization's volunteers.

"If you give someone one pair of boxer shorts, then you really haven’t done them a favor. They need six or seven pair," she says. "And the same thing with T-shirts, athletic shorts, long pants. One pair is not good enough."

At the Oviedo church north of Orlando, about a dozen members attend the sewing class and have made more than 600 items in a little over 15 months, according to Pat White, who coordinates the ministry for the sewing club.

"We had no idea that we would be able to do that much," says White, a former Navy nurse. She checks each piece of clothing to make sure it meets the specifications of Sew Much Comfort.

Some of the seamstresses have personal reasons for volunteering to help.

Georgette Hester has both a son and a daughter-in-law deployed in Iraq. "I appreciate that I have enough skill to participate and I can only imagine what it would be like to receive a gift like this," says Hester. "It’s a very, very rewarding experience for me."

Sewing instructor Anne Dunson (right) gives tips to Carol Madsen. A UMNS
photo by John Gordon.

Shirley Peters empathizes with the soldiers due to her family's experiences from a different war in a different time. "One of my brothers was a Vietnam casualty. He didn’t make it back," Peters says.

While members of the sewing volunteers discuss the latest stitches and patterns during their meetings, the politics of the Iraq war are not part of the discussion.

"I can’t stop the war. I can’t stop them being wounded," says White. "But I can at least make their recovery process a little smoother––and give them some indication that there are people out here who care."

*Gordon is a freelance producer based in Marshall, Texas.

News media contact: Fran Coode Walsh, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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