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Sew-at-thon to assist vets

Shirley Lohse of Willmar sews a case for a limb-support pillow Oct. 13, 2008, during a sew-a-thon at the Willmar Community Center to benefit wounded soldiers. Tribune file photo

WILLMAR -- Hands of residents in veterans homes in the state will soon be freed up with the aid of wheelchair or walker bags, assembled and sewn together by volunteers at Saturday's fifth annual Fabric and Textile Warehouse Sew-a-thon.

Area volunteers at the event, slated from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. Saturday at the Willmar Community Center, will busy their own hands cutting, ironing and sewing together bags for veterans.

"Veterans have given so much for our freedoms," said Sue Danielson, owner of Fabric and Textile Warehouse and organizer of the event. "For us to give four hours of our own time seems pretty miniscule."

Four hours was enough time for 40 volunteers to assemble more than 160 wheelchair bags at last year's Sew-a-thon, Danielson said. In addition to assembling wheelchair and walker bags, volunteers collected more than 1,000 white washcloths for donation. Bags and washcloths are distributed among area veterans homes, where Danielson said staff and residents are "just tickled" to receive the bags.

"The white washcloths were an added treat," Danielson said.

Danielson, whose father was a World War II veteran, knew veterans homes were in need of support, so she called and ask homes across the region where their greatest needs were. Seven veterans homes across the state suggested the bags, which strap onto the back of wheelchairs and hang from the handle of walkers.

Residents use the bags to carry personal belongings, including newspapers, cell phones and billfolds.

The bags have been the perfect project for the Sew-a-thon for two reasons: their practicality and their simplicity to assemble.

"We've adapted a pattern that works for all skill levels," Danielson said. "It's all straight sewing."

Those who don't know their way around a sewing machine can keep busy with plenty of other tasks: cutting, folding, ironing and labeling. Volunteers can even take on the job of note tuckers, tucking special messages to veterans into pockets of the bags.

Ages at the Sew-a-thon have ranged from 3 to 90, according to Danielson. The event draws families, friends, 4-H members, quilting guilds, sewing groups, Girl Scout troops -- even a few Boy Scout troops. This year the American Legion Women's Auxiliary will serve lunch at the event to all volunteers.

Bringing a sewing machine is encouraged, though not required. Fabric and Textile Warehouse will provide volunteers with everything else, down to the thread. Danielson coordinates the event simultaneously at the store's four locations; each location donates about 30 yards of fabric -- over 100 yards total -- for the event. Along with a sewing machine, volunteers are welcome to donate white wash cloths, which will be collected at the event for the homes.

The event is free to the public, and Danielson hopes to fill the Willmar Community Center.

"We can never have too many volunteers," Danielson said. "If we run out of fabric -- we know where to run to get more."