When Judy West spoke during a Quilts of Valor/Hometown Heroes ceremony for veterans and military families last fall, she had to avoid looking at certain people as families were presented with homemade quilts.
“Last year, one of them we did was Alvin Marques, and he’s a long, longtime veteran who passed away, and we gave one to his family,” West said. “You could see tears in people’s eyes. I had to be careful, because I got stuck doing the announcing, and there were people in the audience I couldn’t look at, because I would cry too, and I didn’t want to do that.”
This year, the group of about 50 quilters is back at work preparing quilts for its Sept. 16 presentation at the Ted Falasco Art Center, and hopes to honor 14 veterans and their families. Three bedspreads have been donated by a group in Hollister, and another from San Juan Bautista.
“I just think it’s something nice to do,” West said. “Merced does it. Turlock does it. But we don’t get things happen over here on our side, so we try to stay on the Westside, so we have Dos Palos, Los Banos, Gustine, that area. And most of them are local.”
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The program means a lot to West. Brother Alton Sissell served 10 years in the military and her late father Wyatt Sissell was a 20-year veteran.
“We had one gentleman last year that I kind of figured out, he was in a wheelchair, and he was probably the same age that my father would still be, and he served kind of where my dad had served in the military,” West said. “Now that one was really hard for me, because it brought back memories of my dad.”
While some members have family members who are veterans – a nephew who served in Iraq, a brother here or there – many of them don’t have close family members who served.
“Most of us do it as something of a community service,” West said. “The Arts Council is really good about supporting us, and this is our way to support the community. You know, give something back.”
Most of the quilts have a patriotic theme – plenty of red, white and blue fabric has been used by the group. West said JMG Fabrics owner Janette Guana, a member of the group, keeps her store well-stocked with fabric in those colors.
“The cost of having them quilted is our biggest expense, and she has a jar down there to take donations for the project,” West said. One quilt is filled with hand-written messages taken at the Downtown Street Faire.
While the group adopts the name Quilts of Valor and Hometown Heroes, it isn’t affiliated with either national organization. The Quilts of Valor organization has strict guidelines for its quilts, according to West. Her group grew out of a fair contest the organization had last year.
“We’re pretty famous for doing our own thing around here, but that’s kind of how it got started,” West said. “They had a contest, and they had people make individual blocks, or you could make the whole quilt, and that’s kind of how it got started last year.”
The group is accepting nominations for recipients. To be eligible, the nominee must have served or be serving in a combat zone. Nomination forms are available at JMG Fabrics, 1044 Sixth St., and the Senior Center, 830 Sixth St. Nominations can be mailed to LBAC, attention Judy West, P.O. Box 127, Los Banos or dropped off at JMG Fabrics.