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Photos by Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Sixty quilts were made and donated to Shepherd’s House in Fort Wayne.

Quilters piece together warmth for local veterans

Shepherd’s House house manager Tracey Barr, left, and Betty Clark display a quilt with veteran Kent Carter. He keeps the quilt on his bed.
A veteran, who gave his name as Mr. Anthony, was given a quilt featuring prints of Oreos, Hershey’s Kisses and other treats.
Samuel Hoffman | The Journal Gazette
Betty Clark organized the quilt drive with the goal of donating 50 blankets by Christmas 2013.

“I’m a quilter. I admit it. I’m addicted.”

About this time last year, Betty Clark says, her addiction ran a little wild.

A 56-year-old post-Vietnam-War-era Army veteran, Clark decided she would make quilts for all the residents of Shepherd’s House, a Fort Wayne nonprofit that shelters homeless vets often struggling with serious addictions.

“I don’t remember where I first heard about them, but I remember thinking, ‘Homeless veterans?’ That’s something that shouldn’t exist,” says Clark, of Fort Wayne.

Clark started her involvement with the shelter at 513 Tennessee Ave. by dropping by around Christmas in 2012 with homemade cookies and candy.

When the quilting idea took hold, she planned to make 50 quilts and deliver them by this past Christmas.

As 2013 wound on, she realized that might be too lofty a goal. But instead of scaling back or redoubling her own efforts, she decided to do some organizing and spread word about the project among area quilting shops and groups.

“The outpouring was unbelievable,” she says. “Quilters are the kindest, most giving people I’ve met in my life. I ended up with 60 quilts.”

Patrons from seven quilting shops participated, as did quilters from Resurrection Lutheran Church, 14318 Lima Road, and a loosely organized group who take bus trips to out-of-town quilt-related destinations.

Peggy Tomlinson of Churubusco did the binding on the quilts, which were delivered Dec. 15 for a party Clark put together with the “the big three C’s,” she says – donated cookies, candy and Starbucks coffee.

Ruth Lengacher of Fort Wayne, Clark’s friend, helped that day.

“Some of those men almost had tears in their eyes,” she says. “One woman had purchased some fishing-printed material, and the guy who got it was so happy. He said, ‘I love fly-fishing.’ Some of them said, ‘Now I know I can keep warm.’ They were so appreciative.”

Many of the quilts have a red, white and blue color scheme and patriotic themes, including one that resident Kent Carter keeps on his bed.

He’s an Army vet who served in Germany from 1977 to 1982. He likes the pattern, which features a large American flag and squares of fabric printed with monuments including the Capitol dome, the Statue of Liberty, Mount Rushmore and the Liberty Bell.

“It reminds me of when I was in the military and how patriotic it was,” he says.

House manager Tracey Barr says the men may keep the quilts they received after they leave the shelter.

Now housing about 40 men, the faith-based program receives Veterans Administration referrals. Men often arrive only with the clothes they are wearing, Barr says.

She keeps a scrapbook with photos of all the quilts. “They were absolutely beautiful quilts. They were works of art,” she says.

Clark, who works in accounting for City Utilities and started quilting about five years ago, says she plans to continue the project this year. She made 11 quilts herself and learned a lot about homeless vets through her involvement.

“I’ll never forget – one vet told me that one reason vets are homeless is that they choose to be. They know they have (post-traumatic stress disorder), and they know if they go off, they might hurt someone. They’re afraid of that, so they’re still protecting us,” she says.

She says she wanted vets to know that the community stood behind them as they go through their struggles. The quilts are useful as well as beautiful, she says.

“I will always remember those smiles when we handed them out,” Clark adds. “It was unbelievable – such a blessing to put an idea out there and get such a response.”

rsalter@jg.net

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