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Fam Campers supporting troops, families in many ways

by Nick Stubbs
Thunderbolt staff writer
Photo by Nick Stubbs

Left to right, November Grubbs, Marissa Grubbs, Paige Sachs, Jessica Pence and Ashleigh Grubbs work to bring together the pieces of quilt that will be donated to the local veterans hospital.

A patchwork quilt is a compilation of many parts that come together to make a whole, much the way the military brings together people of different backgrounds, faiths and ethnicities to create a single force with a unified purpose.

It's fitting then that quilts are among the handworks created by a group of MacDill Fam-Campers who cut, sew and patch together creations designed to provide both comfort and utility to active duty and retired veterans. It also was fitting that the group came together under the umbrella of MacDill’s Chapel outreach program.

The group is wrapping up for the year and will return next winter to pick up where it left off, producing another 300 or so draw-string ditty bags for deploying troops. Rehab aprons and catheter bags for the injured also are on the list, as well as the highly prized quilts will be on the work list.

One of the chief organizers of the Coons' Creek Quilters says the 30 members of the group spent this winter organizing and getting their ducks in a row but will be two to three times as productive next season.

"We were pulling everything together this year but next year we will be much better," said Susan Freeman, who winters at the Fam Camp every year. She said the background skills of many who stay at the camp were an untapped resource and when several campers got together to discuss what they could do to support the troops and vets, the number of experienced quilters and seamstresses made producing stitched goods a natural.

"We have a lot of talented ladies out here and they all wanted to help out in some way," said Mrs. Freeman.

With some funding provided by the Chapel, the group got started over the winter. Materials were sourced for quality and price, job assignments were given, with an eye toward efficiency and setting up a businesslike system.

"We have one lady who worked on assembly lines and it didn't take her long to get everything organized and zipping along," said Mrs. Freeman.

Among those heading the efforts of the group are volunteers Faith Godin, Leone Wood, Maria Balzini and Shriley Lecont. While the group turned out a fair amount of product this season, it really was a feeling out period in which the infrastructure was put in place. Next season they are ready to hit the ground running.

A side benefit of the efforts to bring the needlecraft team together was that it became apparent that many of the men had backgrounds in electrical, construction, automotive, engineering and other fields. Their desire to do something led to a support team that began assisting the families of deployed military members.

"If you ask people (in the military) what they want most, they don't want anything for themselves but they want to make sure their families are being taken care of," said Chaplain (Maj.) Paul Sutter, who helps coordinate the volunteers and helps fund their efforts through Chapel donations. "They (the Fam Camp) do a great service; these ladies really kick it in gear and go full steam ahead."

Another benefit of helping the troops has been in improving the relationship and opening communication between the Fam Campers, most of who are retired military, and the active duty troops. It also has been a way of introducing them to the base Chapel and all the good it does," said Mrs. Freeman.

"We have met so many new people in uniform and we talk and exchange," she said. "Now when some of them see us they say 'Hey, how you doing?' "

Many at the Fam Camp used their own money to buy materials for projects. They are not allowed to actively seek donations but some people found out about their work and have donated to the chapel to help their cause. Mrs. Freeman says she hopes the trend continues next season.

The Fam Campers do what they do to be helpful but Mrs. Freeman admits there is selfish component. Many there derive great satisfaction from knowing they are doing something worthwhile and they improve the quality of their lives by becoming more active and useful. And it appears many new services will evolve as the "tremendous resources" at the Fam Camp are realized. Baby sitting services for stressed out moms and dads, cooking meals for security forces personnel who can't leave their post were added this season and will continue next.

"We never know what talent we are going to find (among the campers)," said Mrs. Freeman but we have a lot of people with valuable skills that can be used to support the troops and our veterans."



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