Gorham couple steps up to sew for veterans

In his Gorham home, Rex Brookings works on a quilt that will be given to a military veteran.

In his Gorham home, Rex Brookings works on a quilt that will be given to a military veteran.

Donna and Rex Brookings of Gorham display a sample of quilts they and other volunteers assemble locally. As part of the Quilts of Valor Foundation, the quilts are awarded in ceremonies to military veterans.

GORHAM — A  Friendly Village couple is instrumental in an effort to honor U.S. and Maine military veterans with special quilts in appreciation for their service.

Rex and Donna Brookings have made seven quilts this year while others in their Friendly Village Quilters group have completed 28.

A Navy veteran, Rex Brookings served as a hull technician aboard the guided missile cruiser USS Albany. His wife, a nurse, is the state coordinator for Quilts of Valor Foundation, a  non-profit national organization.

This year, 75 quilts have been presented to Maine veterans. As of Sept. 26, over 160,370 quilts had been awarded  in all 50 states.

She aspires to award a quilt to every veteran in Maine to thank them for their service. The couple said they’ve invested $10,000 of their own that includes buying supplies and purchasing a $1,100 machine set up in their home. “It depleted our savings,” she said. “It (the machine) takes up our whole living room.”

She enjoys seeing the facial expressions and the emotional responses of recipients at surprise public presentations.

Some veterans break down in presentations. “I have never been thanked for my service until now,” she recalled a veteran saying when receiving a quilt at a high school class reunion in Brunswick.

Closer to home, two Air Force veterans living in Friendly Village were surprised with quilts recently at a community cookout. John DiPaolo said he didn’t “know a thing about it,” and said he received hugs and kisses on his cheek from numerous people at the gathering. “It made me shed a tear,” DiPaolo said Oct. 10.

Another vet also was caught off guard by a quilt presentation at the same cookout. “It feels pretty good,” William Mooers said about recognition for his service.

Quilts are touching the hearts of Vietnam War era veterans, who often endured rude receptions in homecomings. Mooers, who served during that era but not there, said his local, homecoming welcome back to Portland included being targeted with thrown eggs and being called names such as “Baby Killer.”

Rex Brookings said veterans “all over the United States” are receiving quilts.

The couple recently donated several tops for quilts that were sent to Texas to be used in creating quilts as  gifts to veterans who suffered losses in the recent hurricane.

Donna Brookings is seeking individuals and groups to help create quilts as well as names of veterans to receive quilts. The quilters meet the second Thursday monthly at 5 Ash Drive. She is available to speak at civic groups or churches.

Brookings is accepting donations of material or money. Quilts of Valor Foundation is a 501(c)(3) organization, the press release states. For more information, Donna Brookings can be reached at 523-9322.

Robert Lowell can be reached at 854-2577 or rlowell@keepmecurrent.com.