By Karen Jowers
Much Comfort is ramping up production of its special clothes for wounded service members because there is so much need.
As such, the $15,000 grant they received as grand-prize winner of the seventh annual "Newman's Own Awards" will be put to good use making thousands more boxer shorts, pants, shorts, t-shirts and other items for injured troops, said Michele Cuppy, president and chief financial officer for the nonprofit organization.
The Newman's Own Awards recognizes volunteer groups that work to improve military quality of life. This year, a collective $75,000 is being awarded to 12 organizations that will be honored in a ceremony Friday at the Pentagon. Half of them focus mainly on helping wounded and injured service members and their families.
Since the Newman's Own Awards began, 88 organizations have received a total of $357,000 in grants.
Cuppy said Sew Much Comfort was formed in November 2004.
"Ten of us got together in a living room one afternoon," she said. "We thought we would only be doing this for six months."
In its first year, the group made or adapted more than 9,000 items of clothing. They're not putting out about 900 clothing items a month, "but that's still not covering the need," Cuppy said.
Sew Much Comfort has formed a partnership with Ohio correctional facilities, where inmates will help ramp up the production of adaptive clothing. Most of the grant money will be used to buy fabric and other sewing equipment and materials, and to cover costs of shipping the clothing to military or veterans' hospitals.
The group has received requests from individual troops, as well as from doctors who request certain adaptations.
Adapted boxer shorts are in big demand. Sew Much Comfort volunteers have made about 5,000 pairs, opening up side seams and attaching Velcro down the legs, with snaps at the top. They also make some from scratch.
Other clothing is adapted as well. "One gentleman said he was so glad to get dress pants, because he could finally go to church," Cuppy said. "One woman had tears in her eyes after she got underwear. She said she hadn't worn underwear in two months."
The group's goal is to return a measure of independence to the wounded, provide a sense of normalcy and promote self-reliance. Just being able to wear clothing and get dressed by yourself goes a long way in that regard, Cuppy said.
The awards program is jointly sponsored by Newman's Own, the Fisher House Foundation, and the Military Times Media Group, which publishes Army Times, Air Force Times, Navy Times and Marine Corps Times.
Newman's Own, founded by World War II veteran and actor Paul Newman to sell salad dressings and other specialized food products, gives all after-tax profits to charitable and educational organizations. The Fisher House Foundation has built 34 comfort homes to provide a "home away from home" for families visiting patients at military or veterans' hospitals.
-- "Homes for Our Troops" of Taunton, Mass., which builds specially adapted homes or adapts existing homes for disabled veterans returning home from the global war on terror.
-- "Kids Serve Too" of Reston, Va., which fosters awareness of the challenges facing military children during their parents' deployments, hosts free events for kids around the country, and provides financial aid to keep them involved in extracurricular activities.
-- The "Yellow Ribbon Fund" of Washington, D.C., which provides transportation and other help to families of wounded troops treated at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md., and Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington.
-- "Angels of Mercy" of McLean, Va., which makes weekly visits to wounded and injured troops recovering at Walter Reed to deliver clothing, comfort items, and messages of caring from all across America.
-- Operation Homelink's "Operation Laptop" of Chicago, which makes refurbished wireless laptops available to military medical centers all across the U.S. The grant will help put at least 25 refurbished laptops into the hands of troops within two weeks, said Dan Shannon, president of the organization, because their refurbishing partner, Newmarket IT, has agreed to double its donation.
-- "Operation Helping Hand" of Tampa, Fla., which helps seriously wounded and injured active-duty personnel who were deployed to Iraq or Afghanistan, and are now receiving treatment at the James A. Haley VA Medical Center in Tampa, Fla.
-- "Our Military Kids" of McLean, Va., which makes essential extracurricular activities, including tutoring services, available to children of deployed and severely injured National Guard and Reserve members.
-- Operation Homefront's "Eagle Heroes Project," of Fort Campbell, Ky., and Nashville and Clarksville, Tenn., which works to meet the daily needs of wounded soldiers and respond to emergency situations.
-- "United Through Reading" of San Diego, which allows deployed military parents to stay connected with their children during long separations through reading aloud on videotape.
-- Operation Homefront's "Emergency Support Services Program" of San Diego, which serves as a lifeline for families of deployed service members during stressful emergencies.
-- "Stars for Stripes" of Nashville, which aims to enhance the morale of service members overseas by getting celebrity entertainers to donate their time to touring remote locations.
"Holidays, birthdays & anniversaries have been celebrated with tears and smiles with people who truly understand what the other person is experiencing."
- Kamryn Jaroszewski