- Associated Press - Monday, May 22, 2017

NORWALK, Conn. (AP) - Christie Ruiz never viewed sewing quilts for veterans in Fairfield County as a hardship or a nuisance; for her, it was somewhere between a moral obligation and a labor of love devoted to an underappreciated sect of American society.

After three years of Quilts of Valor events, however, Ruiz is reluctantly calling it quits after her business was unable to raise additional funds for the cause.

“Since we’ve opened, this project has been our heart and our soul for 365 days a year,” Ruiz said as she fought back tears. “It’s been our honor to provide these quilts to veterans. We may not have known who these quilts would go to when we started them, but we knew that, in any case, they would be going to someone special.”

In honor of the final event, Ruiz and volunteers kicked into overdrive over the past year, churning out 15 quilts, which is a steep increase over the 10 quilts sewn in each of the previous years.

Servicemen and women spanning multiple generations and representing different branches of military service were joined by dozens of city residents, including Mayor Harry Rilling and state Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, as they received the quilts that they earned with their bravery.

Veterans from every major conflict over the past 75 years - from World War II to the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan - were honored with the commemorative quilts on Saturday.

“As different as all the fabrics are, our veterans are all different. We have some wonderful older veterans with lots of experience. We have new people who are boots on the ground in some very scary places, and these are the people who will know about these quilts and will care about them,” said Jane Dougherty, Connecticut’s co-coordinator of Quilts of Valor.

Quilts of Valor, a nonprofit foundation, was founded in 2003 and set out with a goal of “making quilts that would heal and comfort our war wounded,” according to its website. Since its founding, Quilts of Valor has handed out more than 159,000 quilts to veterans of every branch of the armed services.

As the daughter of a military father, Ruiz was brought up to respect the sacrifices made by the men and women serving in the armed forces. That’s why when she opened Christie’s Quilting Boutique in 2013, she jumped at the opportunity to host the annual event in Norwalk.

In 2014, Ruiz and a team of her most dedicated customers teamed up with the Quilts of Valor Foundation to present quilts to veterans at her store, Christie’s Quilting Boutique at 176 Main Street.

Prior to hosting the events, quilts were handed out throughout Fairfield County in trips made to each individual’s home. Ruiz believed that by gathering these veterans together and honoring them all at once, these men and women could be regaled in a manner more befitting of their valor.

“These men and women didn’t hesitate to throw themselves in harm’s way, so this is really just a good way for us to begin to honor their sacrifices,” said Ruiz.

Quilts of Valor are stitched together with 20, 12-inch blocks. For most quilts, each block is sewn by a different volunteer so that when the pieces are later stitched together at Ruiz’s business, more than 20 women have “infused their prayer and care and love” into each quilt, said Dougherty.

This tender love and care was clearly felt by 92-year-old Pat Parlette, as she was at a loss for words as she received her quilt.

“My word, my word,” the former nurse who served in World War II repeated as she saw her quilt for the first time.

“It was such a great privilege and pleasure to lend a hand to our American military,” she added.

While there are no clear successors to Christie’s Quilting Boutique currently, Ruiz said that she hopes someone down the line will pick up the mantle.

“It’s just a thank you to them. Many of these veterans haven’t been thanked in many, many years. Some of these young veterans never even got a ‘thank you’ when they came home. This is just a special way to acknowledge these people for who they are.”

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Online:

https://bit.ly/2ruvIvj

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For more information: The (Norwalk) Hour, www.thehour.com

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