Aging Well Spotlight: Mary Walters

Craig retiree puts sewing hobby to special use

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To help

Residents interested in volunteering their time to help sew, cut or launder fabric for clothing made for injured and disabled war veterans can call Mary Walters at 824-2923.

Walters also welcomes donations of detergent, preferably Purex, and fabric. Fleece, cotton and flannel in masculine colors and patterns work best - please, no polyester knits.

For more on Sew Much Comfort, visit www.sewmuchcomfor...

The soft green boxer shorts with the pool ball pattern were a big hit. Then there were the cozy black fleece pants, made from a large bolt of donated fabric. Injured soldiers wore those on the cold plane ride home from Germany.

From her spacious backyard sewing shop, Mary Walters of Craig has churned out these and many other adaptive garments for U.S. military members injured in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The many sewing hours Walters donates to the organization, Sew Much Comfort, help provide relief and convenience to soldiers coping with lost limbs and other injuries but have also given her an immeasurable sense of purpose in retirement.

"I'm really glad I found (Sew Much Comfort) because, otherwise, I'd be wondering what I'd do," Walters said while sitting in her shop, a busy backdrop of fabric rolls, sewing machines and colorful thread.

Before retirement, Walters, 61, worked as a janitor for the Moffat County School District for 21 years and also ran a side business repairing dolls and making doll clothes.

Her husband, a Vietnam War veteran, came across the nonprofit organization, Sew Much Comfort, on the Internet. The project was the perfect opportunity for Mary to combine her lifelong love of sewing and her extra time.

"This is the most enjoyable sewing I've ever done," she said.

A little comfort...

Walters is among 1,500 active volunteers nationwide, including 150 volunteers in Colorado, who sew pants, boxer shorts and scrub shirts and adapt T-shirts to accommodate the prosthetics and casts worn by injured soldiers, many of whom spend months recovering in hospitals.

"They are all real happy to get the clothes," Walters said. "They just like having regular clothes so they don't have to wear hospital gowns."

An "authorized" sewer, Walters sews mostly pants and boxers with easy-open seams fastened with Velcro and other materials. Walters and other volunteers adhere to a standard set of techniques authorized by the organization for consistency and effectiveness.

Walters uses mostly fabric donated by individuals or fabric stores, and the organization provides other materials such as Velcro.

In the two years she's volunteered with Sew Much Comfort, Walters estimates she's made more than 100 pairs of pants alone. About every two months, she sends a box of 10 pairs of pants to the organization's distribution warehouse in Beaver Creek, Ohio.

Sew Much Comfort appreciates all quantities of clothing volunteers are able to contribute.

"That's what makes it so comfortable for me," Walters said.

The only volunteer in Routt and Moffat counties, Walters welcomes as much or as little help as others may want to provide. She's excited about the potential of creating a sewing assembly line with seamstresses in Unfinished Objects, a sewing group in Craig, in the fall.

Residents don't have to know how to sew to help out. Washing and cutting fabric (the least fun part for a seamstress) also are big parts of the job.

Finding purpose

Walters, who says she doesn't "know the meaning of bored," also is president of the VFW Ladies Auxiliary, helping with senior dinners, a youth scholarship program and other events. She also works with youth in the Boys & Girls Club of Craig and 4-H.

There never is a shortage of ways to help out, but Walters only takes on commitments that don't take away from her work for Sew Much Comfort.

"Sometimes it gets pretty hectic," she said.

Sew Much Comfort is an ideal outlet for many retirees, who make up about half of the organization's volunteers, said Linda Trumble, who oversees volunteers in 12 states from her home in Niwot.

Not only do they have more time to contribute - some even sew while traveling in their RVs - but many are wives of veterans or related to family members who have served in the military.

"I think, truly, for a lot of these women, it provides a sense of helping in a small way," Trumble said. "It gives them a purpose in life and something to contribute to and feel proud that they are making a difference in someone's life."

Sew Much Comfort even has given some volunteers a reason to turn their lives around, Trumble said.

She told a story about one volunteer who had debilitating emphysema when she joined the program. Two years later, the woman, who is in her early 70s, is a regional director and no longer needs supplemental oxygen.

"She has told me it just has made the difference in her life that keeps her moving forward," Trumble said.

That probably wouldn't surprise Walters, who knows volunteering involves just as much spirit as time.

"You really have to put your heart into it," she said.

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