When Army Specialist Rudy Acosta was killed March 19, Sharon Devol took out her crochet hook and got to work.
Devol, who lives in Canyon Country, is one of hundreds of crafters across the U.S. and Canada who belong to the group “Heartmade Blessings” that makes afghans for families of fallen soldiers.
She’s made dozens of squares, as the demand for them doesn’t seem to be slowing.
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“I’ve probably donated at least 50 squares,” she said.
Of the squares she finished this last week, two of them – one white, one purple – will be included in the blanket that she will present to the Acosta family, along with three other squaremakers, all of whom knew the young man from Santa Clarita Christian School.
According to Edith Smith, the group’s national coordinator, they have completed 1,856 “comfortghans” for the bereaved families.
Heartmade Blessings started in March 2001, as a spinoff of the group Angels of Comfort.
“Of course, we had no idea what was going to happen,” Smith said, referring to the terrorist attacks on September 11 of that year.
“When 9/11 happened, we sent 346 afghans to families of those who were lost in the World Trade Center, on the plane and at the Pentagon,” she said.
Members went on to make blankets for the families of the astronauts killed in the Columbia space shuttle disaster and started making the ‘comfortghans’ for troops’ families after we got involved in Iraq in 2003.
They also make afghans for people dealing with terminal illness or bereaved families and have made 6,500 afghans for them.
“The word got out that we were doing this and it just took off,” Smith said.
The afghans for fallen troops are traditionally red, white and blue; some contain a gold star and others, if there was a Purple Heart awarded, are made of purple and white squares. If the soldier was Canadian, a red and white afghan is built.
The Acosta family will receive a purple and white afghan, with squares made by Devol and other local crocheters whose lives were touched by the young soldiers.
“One squaremaker used to drive the school bus that Rudy took to Santa Clarita Christian School,” Devol said. “Another is a pastor’s wife and friend of the family.”
The squares are made all over the country and sent to assemblers. This afghan is being assembled in Oregon.
Squaremakers send their handcrafted creations from all over the United States and Canada to designated assemblers. Each square has a tag attached with the maker’s name and information – Smith said that some give their websites or personal contact information and sometimes write a note of condolence for the family.
“They’re a real kick for whoever gets the afghan,” she said. “Most of the people never take them off.”
When the afghans are completed, they are washed (the tags are removed, then reattached) and placed in special tote bags, made by a separate group of volunteers, and delivered to the family.
Sometimes ride captains from the Patriot Guard Riders will deliver the afghans, a moment that Smith said they never forget.
“You have no idea, you cannot imagine,” she said, hesitantly. “It will break your heart and at the same time, make you stand 10 feet tall. It’s very emotional.”
Many of the squaremakers are also members of the Guard, even if they don’t ride motorcycles.
A large contingent of riders turned out for Acosta’s funeral motorcade to the cemetery last week. Devol was one of the non-riding members who stood along the route with a large American flag.
Smith and her husband have been members of the Patriot Guard since 2007 and have participated in more than 25 funerals.
“It will bring you to tears,” she said. “When you see the family and see their grief, and see how proud they are,”
When a member of the military is killed, a message goes out on a Yahoo-based mailing list and the project is taken up by an assembler, who tells members what they need. The rest comes together quickly, so the families can receive the tribute in a timely manner.
Smith said the feedback from families sometime takes her breath away.
“We get thank you notes, emails, handwritten notes and postings on Facebook,” she said. “They can’t imagine that people they don’t know who don’t even know them would do something like this. It is definitely our pleasure and honor to do so.”
For information on the group, please visit their website at: www.heartmadeblessingsfallenheroes.org