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Volunteers donate quilts to wounded veterans
COLLINS -- Nearly a dozen veterans left south Mississippi with fuller luggage after Covington County quilters surprised them with early Christmas gifts.
Members of the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers spent months piecing together fabric in anticipation of the annual Hot Coffee Hunts for Heroes welcome dinner on Dec. 12. The meal, which included a fish fry with all the trimmings, brought together community members and military heroes from across America for a night of fellowship as part of a weekend deer hunt. Troy and Beverly Davis hosted the event at their property, Heaven in the Woods.
“This is the first year we’ve been actively involved in this wonderful event,” said Martha Douglas, president of the Covington County Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers club. “We all love to sew and quilt, so we decided this year to make each one of the veterans a quilt to take home.”
The ladies pooled their fabric and shared ideas for patterns. Most of quilts are throw blankets and double-bed size.
“Each lady did her own thing,” said Mary Sokovich of Collins, who originally suggested the project to the group after becoming involved in the hunt through her work with the Veterans of Foreign Wars. “We wanted to do something personal for the men who come and hunt. The Hot Coffee Hunts for Heroes gives them a chance to sit around a fire and talk about their experiences.”
Doris Sullivan is a 16-year member of the Mississippi Homemaker Volunteers, an organization sponsored by the Mississippi State University Extension Service. Sullivan made seven quilts in three months for the wounded warriors.
“Our homemakers are hard workers,” Sullivan said. “We’ve done chemo caps, wheelchair bags, chair covers, different projects for the Blair Batson Children’s Hospital, and tote bags for the Ronald McDonald house, but this gives our hearts a different feeling.”
Damian Orslene of Pensacola, Florida, has participated in the Hot Coffee Hunts for Heroes since 2010. Orslene is a medically retired Chief Master Sergeant who served 28 years in the U.S. Air Force. He suffered extensive injuries during an explosion, including traumatic brain injuries.
“I’ve got a stainless steel hip as a result of my injuries in Iraq during my third deployment,” Orslene said. “I’m always cold, and I’m a big fan of quilts. I appreciate their efforts and hope they’ll keep up the good work.”
But the weekend is not about the quilts or other gifts received, or even the hunt itself, Orslene said.
“You don’t know if you’ll get a deer, but you know you’re going to eat well and have fun while you’re here,” he said. “The No. 1 thing is connecting with other veterans. We exchange phone numbers and know there is someone we can call when we’re stuck in the darkness. We help each other move toward the light.”
Orslene said that every day, 17 wounded veterans kill themselves -- and he knows why.
“The post-traumatic stress disorder, pain and suffering prevent you from seeing a way out, and you think suicide is the answer,” he said. “I tried to kill myself in 2010, and God intervened. That’s the year I came here, and when I arrived, I was very depressed and confused. This experience saved my life.”
Orslene is now in training full time as a para-Olympic athlete preparing to compete in discus, shot put and javelin the 2016 games in Rio de Janeiro, but he still takes these trips to Mississippi for what he calls a family reunion.
When he addressed the crowd of community supporters, he explained the importance of this event.
“It keeps me going, because I know every spring and fall I have a family to wrap their arms around me and tell me it’s all going to be okay,” he said. “You can never imagine in a million years what you mean to us. I know if I can just get here, it’s going to be all right.”