By Rachel Belle
When a soldier is deployed from Joint Base Lewis McChord, the kisses they give to their mothers, grandmothers, husbands, wives and children before they leave have to last a long time. But thanks to a group of Western Washington cross stitchers, those kisses can last a little bit longer. For the past six years, The Evergreen Chapter of the Embroiderers Guild of America has hand stitched, sewn and delivered 19,000 Kissing Pillows to deploying soldiers and their families.
"It's a small pillow, it's 4x4 square. It's a heart and it has two stars on it and in the center of it, it says, 'I Love You.' On the back we use patriotic fabric," says EGA region representative C.J. Welter.
JBLM distribution coordinator Carol Uhl says these pillows are meant to be kissed and hugged and given to a soldier headed for a war zone.
"We encourage lipstick! If you're gonna send it to a soldier, put your lipstick on, give it a big smack and let him take it with him! A son of one of the women is deployed at the present time, and he said when they come in from being out in the field, and they start shedding their coats and their packs and so forth, you'll see these little pillows in their helmets, in their packs, in their pockets. So they do mean something to the soldiers."
The soldier can also infuse the pillow with kisses and give it to their spouse or children.
"Sometimes, these children, this is the only thing they have left of their daddy or mommy," Carol says. "You know, maybe that person has been deployed and has been killed in action and this child now has this one remembrance of their parent. The most rewarding one I saw, that really made me feel good, was this little 5-year-old. He came running across the field to his mother and he had the pillow clutched in his hand and he jumped up on her and he said, 'Look at this! Daddy kissed this pillow! I have a kiss to keep while he's gone.' It just really makes you realize that these pillows mean a lot to these families."
Knowing the pillow was handmade with love makes a big difference. It takes about two hours to do the cross stitching and then another hour to assemble the pillow. Each step is usually done by someone different and machines are never used.
"This latest deployment, which is the 4th Striker Brigade, which is deploying in the middle of October, they came up and asked us for 4,200 pillows. That's a lot," says chapter president, Nancy Behrendt. "I put out an SOS down to a woman in California. The upshot of the deal is that I've gotten pillows from all over the country. People have taken it upon themselves to help us. Yesterday I just got six packages from Tennessee, Florida, Texas, California. All over."
Nancy says before the soldiers deploy, the ladies head down to the base and hand out the pillows.
"The feelings that we get from the soldiers and the families are unbelievable. I've been doing this now for almost six years, and I have probably got more hugs in six years than in my entire lifetime. They truly appreciate it. They know that we do it out of our love and respect for the soldiers and the families and what they've given us. There's no politics involved. We do it because we care and it's a small way for us to say 'Thank you.'"
If you'd like to help make Kissing Pillows, you can contact Nancy at firstname.lastname@example.org to get the pattern and instructions.