Chris Batchilder of Cornwall, P.E.I., says he has to fight his kids to use his Quilt of Valour, because the whole family wants to cuddle under the beautiful, warm quilt.
He received it from the Kindred Spirits Quilt Guild in Charlottetown last year, after applying for one from the Quilts of Valour website.
"It's used every night," Batchilder said of the colourful quilt. "It's a beautiful, beautiful quilt.
"The fact that people take their time and volunteer to do these things I thought was pretty amazing."
Quilts of Valour are sewn by volunteer quilters in Canada for current or former military members who are ill or injured as a result of their service or who served in areas of conflict or peacekeeping including Korea, Bosnia, Rwanda, the Gulf Wars and during the Second World War.
'A way that I can say thank you'
The program was started in 2006 by Edmonton quilter Lezley Zwaal, who made quilts and gave them to three Armed Forces members recovering in hospital from injuries they received in Afghanistan. She was moved to continue, by their stories and their gratitude at her gift.
Since then, volunteer quilters across Canada have been busy stitching for veterans and serving members all around the world, including dozens of quilters on P.E.I. who create and present an average of 10 quilts a year.
"It's to acknowledge their sacrifice," said Meghan McCarthy, the P.E.I. representative for Quilts of Valour Canada since 2016.
She also works at Veterans Affairs in Charlottetown and comes from a military background. Her maternal grandparents also lived in the Netherlands and were liberated by Canadian soldiers during the Second World War.
"I think it's important to make people feel loved, and know that what they gave has value. They're important," McCarthy said, choking up.
"I didn't sign up to serve, but this is a way that I can say thank you," she said. "Plus, I just love quilts!"
'Almost always tears'
Veterans can apply themselves or someone can nominate them to receive a quilt, via the organization's website. Once that happens, organizers — on P.E.I., that's McCarthy — get in touch with the veteran, to make sure they are eligible and to arrange for a future presentation. They don't ask for details of the members' illness or injury, she said.
There could be a quilt ready when the application is made, but there is usually a delay while quilts are being produced, McCarthy said. The tops must be cut and pieced together, a batting and a backing added, machine quilting and binding around the edges.
The final touch is a patch sewn inside each quilt, noting who it was made for, who worked on it and a note of appreciation for the veteran.
The quilts are presented to veterans either by McCarthy or at a ceremony including some of the quilters. Before COVID-19, she said the procedure was to read the veteran the message on the special patch, and then wrap it around them.
It's a very unique and very thoughtful way of showing [their appreciation], for sure. — Chris Batchilder, veteran
"There's almost always tears" at the presentations, McCarthy said.
"And not just from the recipient but from people who witness it, because they don't realize what a difference it can make for someone to feel like someone made them something — not with any expectation, just as an acknowledgement of their service and to say thank you."
Batchilder said his ceremony last year was simple and humbling.
"It's a very unique and very thoughtful way of showing [their appreciation], for sure. Most soldiers are very humbled, I think, when somebody shows appreciation for what they do or what they've done," he said.
'Fanstastic' military career
Batchilder served 30 years in the Canadian Armed Forces before he retired in 2017 and returned home to P.E.I., where the former master warrant officer works with the Department of Veterans Affairs.
He served in Gander and Kingston, as well as Alert in Nunavut, Bosnia in the late 1990s, a tour in Afghanistan in 2005 followed by a combined tour in Kuwait and Iraq in 2015-16. He also came from a military family, but had not planned on joining until he found himself in need of a job after graduating high school in 1984.
He said he was fortunate not to be injured physically or psychologically by his experiences. He was deeply moved by the plight of Bosnian people following ethnic cleansing there, and by the abject poverty of people in Afghanistan. He was under fire only once, in Afghanistan, downplaying it as "potshots" taken at their armoured vehicle.
It was a career he said he loved, even basic training.
"I can honestly say there wasn't a day I didn't look forward to putting my boots on," he said, calling it "fantastic."
Anyone can help make one
McCarthy said anyone is welcome to help make a Quilt of Valour. Mothers have made them for sons, she said, but many volunteers are people who just feel the need to make a quilt. There are half a dozen quilt guilds on the Island that have made quilts as well as many individuals.
There are free patterns and specifications on the Quilts of Valour website, and McCarthy is available to help guide quilters who are interested. All materials and time are donated.
The organization has a goal of donating 20,000 quilts by the end of 2020, but it now looks unlikely that will be met.
"I think we're going to struggle this year just because of COVID, but volunteers continue to step up," said McCarthy.
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