Story by Tina Wagner and Photography by Ed Mann
She refers to them as "our wounded warriors." Together, with other seamstresses, Joan Dulcey, an art teacher at St. Peter's School in Waldorf, leads a team of volunteers who stand ready to help soldiers in a special way.
Sew Much Comfort is a national organization formed to adapt new clothing for wounded soldiers so that they can wear "normal" clothes instead of hospital gowns during their long recovery. In Charles County, Dulcey's team does just that. "About three years ago, I saw a news report that highlighted the 'Person of the Week' who was involved with this effort," she says. "This was the first time I had heard of Sew Much Comfort and its mission to create adaptive clothing for wounded soldiers. I was so moved by this that I knew I had to help."
The volunteers, she explains, open the seams in shirts and shorts and insert Velcro so that they can easily be put on over injuries. They also make long pants with enlarged legs to fit over bandages and casts and can be worn with braces. Dulcey relates how much it meant to one grateful soldier to be able to wear real clothes: "…It gave her back her dignity."
For the last three years, Dulcey, small in stature but huge in heart, has met with a small group of volunteers three to four times a month to sew or open seams. Seemingly unfazed by the daunting job, she recalled its beginning: "I started the group because I realized after getting the informational pamphlets from the organization that many people would like to help, but may feel overwhelmed by the instructions." Volunteers include a woman whose husband left for Iraq the same day her son returned. "For some, it helps them to pass the time until they see their loved ones again," she says.
When about 25 items are ready, Dulcey packs and sends them to the group's distribution warehouse. The warehouse fills orders from the soldiers, their families and the military hospitals. "Sometimes they get special requests and our volunteers always come through for them," she explains. "We provide it all free of cost. No soldier is ever turned down."
The oldest of six children, Dulcey says that she was taught compassion by her parents at an early age. "My mother's oldest sister was very sick for two years before she died. I was in middle school at that time and we would go to visit her almost every weekend, so my mother could help take care of her. My mother was always helping others. This had a great impact on who I am."
A talented artist, Dulcey, when not doing her volunteer work spends much of her time in the classroom at St. Peter's School where she has shared her artistic ability with students for the past 14 years. "I try to teach the children that they can use their talents to serve others. We have been decorating a tree for the Festival of Trees at the Jaycee Hall for many years. I also have the children make their own Muppet style puppets and perform puppet shows for the school and local community and at nursing homes and senior centers.
"I believe God has been good to me with the artistic abilities he has given me," she says. "With Sew Much Comfort, I can help those now, who defend my freedom. It is the least I can do."
If you are interested in helping with Sew Much Comfort in Southern Maryland, contact Joan Dulcey at email@example.com or phone 301-645-7468.