In April 2006, my daughter was carrying out her second tour of duty in Iraq. Attempting to calm my own mind, I joined a local prayer shawl group and began knitting prayer shawls for the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. Using the database of prayer shawl groups located at the ministry’s website, http://www.shawlministry.com, I contacted about 250 existing prayer shawl groups suggesting they consider sending prayer shawls to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Within a short time, Chaplain John Kallerson at Walter Reed said he was receiving an average 100 prayer shawls weekly and giving them out to grateful soldiers and their families as quickly as they came in.
Chaplain Kallerson continued to accept prayer shawls until August 2007 when he was replaced by a new chaplain. He would pile them onto a cart and happily distribute shawls to soldiers on the hospital floor. He made an effort to acknowledge every prayer shawl gift. I will warn you to not expect a thank you note from the soldier or their family. To date, I’ve sent about 20 prayer shawls to Walter Reed and have only received one thank you note from a grieving mother. She was most appreciative for the time, love, and caring that went into the prayer shawl. It felt good to hear from her, but we cannot place such expectations on families who are so stressed. Just know your work is appreciated – that is enough. The love that goes into making these shawls gives nearly as much reward to you, the knitter, as it does to these families!
However, recently I recevied a letter from the new chaplain at Walter Reed asking to NOT send gifts to the wounded soldiers – they are totally overwhelmed from “tens of thousands of Americans showing their support to our Wounded Warriors here in the form of cards, letters, care packages, and more.” They are also concerned about security, and do not have enough staff. They phased out the program. Distraught, I immediately wrote a letter to Lee and Bob Woodruff asking for their help to try to turn this decision around. (You may remember Bob Woodruff’s head injury while filming for ABC News in Iraq. His wife, Lee, wrote a book about their horrible experience and his long mending process. I admire them both and felt they were my best bet to shed some media attention of Walter Reed’s ‘bad’ deicsion.) Lee was nice enough to return a hand-written note stating this is a worthy project which she applauds, to “keep up the good work and the prayers.” She and Bob need to maintain their focus on military families who are out of acute care and dealing with the next part of life.
You might consider sending a prayer shawl to a local Veterans’ Hospital – call them and inquire – ask to speak with the chaplain of that hospital. Good luck!