When Ann Clayton of Morehead, Kentucky saw a large box that had been delivered to her office at Morehead University with a return address of McPherson, Kansas, she was intrigued. Clayton and her husband, C. J., had lived in Newton for 13 years and she wondered what could be coming from Kansas to Kentucky.
The box contained quilts and pillowcases made by the Gently Aged Ladies or GALs of the War and Peace Quilters, for children who were given beds through the Build-A-Bed program administered by Morehead University staff.
The GALs are a group of eight women between the ages of 69 and 88, from Lyons, Marquette and McPherson, who gather every Monday morning to assemble quilts.
Joan Wegele, Judy Nickel, Beverly Alstatt, Pearl Besecker, Ruth Bosch, Marilyn Hendrix, Carol Cook and Connie McCue — who is better known as Grandma Hugs.
The quilts are laid out, the layers are tied together and then they are sent home with Grandma Hugs for her to stitch them together.
"We start at 9 a.m. and we quit around 1:30 p.m., with a coffee break and a lunch break," Grandma Hugs said. "We can do, if we push it, eight quilts."
Grandma Hugs said that the group came together in 2007, after hearing of a church group in western Kansas that made quilts for veterans.
"When we started out, it was for the veterans and the military," Grandma Hugs said.
Grandma Hugs has story after story of how the quilts they made for veterans, active duty military personnel and Gold Star Mothers ended up with designs or emblems that were especially meaningful to them.
"They're very, very frugal," Clayton said.
The GALs get fabric for the quilts from donations, garage sales and estate sales and have been supported by donations from the American Legion.
"(God) is our leader. We follow what he tells us to do...we follow by faith," Grandma Hugs said. "He has provided us with all the material we needed, all the threads, everything we needed, he has provided."
The GALs were put in contact with Build-A-Bed through a mutual acquaintance in Pennsylvania who had a comfort pad made by the GALs for her service dog.
Started in 2009, the Kentucky Build-A-Bed project began when two programs, Success Corps and FRYSC Corps, built 57 beds for children in the area. Build-A-Bed now has a bed-building day once a year. Over the years, they have constructed 1,348 beds made from wood pieces that are cut and assembled by volunteers.
"I was raised — I'm one of seven children — in West Virginia, but I never went without a bed. That's pretty basic," Clayton said.
Each child selected by the program receives a twin sized bed and mattress, a set of sheets, a blanket or quilt, a hygiene kit, books, nightlight or alarm clock and stuffed animal, Clayton noted.
"It truly is a need," Clayton said. "There's kids there that sleep on the floor with maybe one blanket; not even a sleeping bag — and it might be a ratty blanket at that — no bed. There's a lot of drugs in our area. Grandparents are raising kids. Kids are in foster care and adoption (programs). There's just a lot of kids that require assistance...we don't have any jobs there, so there's a lot of poverty in the area."
The GALs talked with Build-A-Bed, who agreed to accept an initial donation of 10 quilts and to let the GALs know if more were needed.
"They loved them," Grandma Hugs said, "and we're still working."
After the initial 10 quilts, the GALs sent 127 quilts to Build-A-Bed last year and have sewn another 80 quilts so far this year.
"God turned us loose on this mission," Grandma Hugs said. "We started out with just those 10 (quilts) and it grew from there."
Clayton, who had already planned to come back to Newton this summer to visit friends, wanted to visit McPherson and meet the GALs.
It was Grandma Hugs, who answered Clayton's call to ask about meeting them and she said she was excited to hear that someone involved with Build-A-Bed was coming to Kansas. It was a trip that would serve not only as a meeting of members of Build-A-Bed and the GALs, but would also allow the GALs to send more quilts back with Clayton.
Clayton said she ended up having to bring a bigger car to transport the quilts back to Kentucky.
"It was just so incredible," Clayton said. "I walked in and they were so excited to see us."
Clayton brought the GALs Kentucky-made items: Ale-8-One, cream candy, beef jerky and a pillow in the shape of Kentucky signed by Build-A-Bed leaders.
"I can't wait to tell (Build-A-Bed) some more stories about it when I get back and how cool it is," Clayton shared. "It was just amazing that these women are willing to do this and send us quilts for these kids. They're just as cute as they can be and they've got stories to tell about their lives."
Grandma Hugs said what she gets out of making and giving away the quilts was "warm fuzzies and tummy tickles." She has been able to share about the project with several church and civic groups and said the quilts help brings closure to veterans, especially Vietnam veterans who tell her they often feel like no one cares about them.
"Our quilts have affected people's lives," Grandma Hugs said. "It just blows us away."
One of the latest quilt recipients is the Community Chaplain Response Team of Harvey County, headed by Jason Reynolds, who said the quilt will decorate a wall in their new office.
"It's just God using his people," Clayton said, "and I think it gives these ladies a purpose. They're older ladies and they're kind of a little support group for each other."
The GALs are accepting suggestions of veterans to make quilts for, but Grandma Hugs noted there is a long waiting list. Most veterans who are suggested do not know they have been put on the list. The GALs get great enjoyment out of surprising the recipient.
"They don't know they're getting them, but they're on the waiting list to do," Grandma Hugs said.
To nominate a veteran to receive a quilt, contact Grandma Hugs at 620-242-7662 or email@example.com.
For more information on Build-A-Bed, visit www.moreheadstate.edu/buildabed.
Contact Patricia Middleton by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter at @MiddleSentinel.