Two-year-old Tierney Allred's eyes latched onto the pink quilt approaching her, and she strained to reach it. When it was handed to her, she scrunched up her face as she held it close.
Even at such a tender age, Tierney knew what it was — a specially made quilt with pictures of her dad, an Army sergeant, having fun with her and the family. Her five older brothers and sisters each already had one of their own, which they'd received at Fort Bragg, N.C., about five years ago.
Their dad, Brandon, now stationed at Joint Base Anacostia-Bolling, D.C., has deployed three times to Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now away from home for training through February.
Tierney received her quilt last month at the McLean, Va., offices of contractor SAIC, which helps fund the Armed Services YMCA's Operation Kid Comfort program. Employees donate their time to make the quilts, as well.
Whether making quilts for military children, filling boxes with goodies for the troops or contributing a few dollars to a military charity, many Americans have been quietly, steadfastly making a difference in the military community for years — one quilt, one box, one dollar at a time. These generous folks don't always get to see the impact of their efforts, and military families do not always get the opportunity to thank the donors.
But the brief, informal ceremony for employees and volunteers at SAIC provided that opportunity.
Watching Tierney stretch out her arms for her quilt, Pat Massimini's eyes brimmed with tears. She made Tierney's quilt, one of about 30 she has crafted for Operation Kid Comfort.
"Your heart just comes out of your chest," said Massimini, the wife of a retired Marine. "The other moment was when all the other children ran around to see the new quilt" as their mom, Jennifer, held it up.
Jennifer Allred said the quilts have made a big difference for her children. When she provided the pictures for the quilts, she chose photos of the children doing things with their father — such as swimming and playing outside together.
"When they're missing daddy, or start asking for him, I'll have them go get their daddy blanket," she said. "We talk about the pictures on the quilt."
At times when the children have cried at night, she said, "it helps because they can wrap the blanket around them and point to a picture of daddy."
According to 11-year-old Abigayle, "I like it when I'm scared or I don't feel good. I can cuddle up with it."
Massimini, who works for technology company Mitre, may not be able to see the reaction of every child, but she feels a connection through each quilt she makes, because of the pictures she places on them.
"I've never quilted where I felt such a personal connection with the people I'm making it for," she said. "By the time you're done, you feel like you know them."