HAMPTON — The Old Dudes Motorcycle Club will make its annual trip from Gloucester to distribute gifts to Spinal Cord Unit patients at the Hampton VA Medical Center on Saturday, but this year there's a twist.
For more than 10 years the group has distributed holiday gift bags to the veterans. But this time they will be giving Quilts of Valor along with gift bags and stockings, and Hampton City Council will present "challenge coins" to all 37 of the spinal cord injury patients.
Hampton City Councilman Donnie Tuck is scheduled to present the coins to each veteran, and U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott, D-Newport News, is expected to attend.
Challenge coins are commonly used in the military as commemorative gestures of good will.
Quilts of Valor is a national project that was started in 2003 to provide handmade quilts to military service members and veterans affected by war. Cassi Fritzius, wife of one of the Old Dudes' founders, decided last year that they would provide the quilts at the VA for this Christmas season.
Fritzius, a quilter, said she started checking two years ago to see if any of the patients had Quilts of Valor, and none of them did. One veteran who followed the group on its visits and became close to them passed away prior to last year's visit, and she decided it was time.
"I had decided right then and there, no matter what it took I was going to make sure that each of those men had a quilt on their bed if at all possible in memory of him," Fritzius said. "For a lot of these men, it's the last stop and they have not been recognized."
She asked the Old Dudes and quilter contacts for support in making the number of quilts needed — about 45. The Old Dudes made a monetary donation, while supplies and pieces for quilts came in from the River Country Quilters in Gloucester and Sisters by Choice, a quilting bee in Virginia Beach.
"So we wanted to let the veterans know that they have not been forgotten," Fritzius said.
Angela Leary, a former Hampton City Council member who now lives in Gloucester, heard about the project after meeting Fritzius at a quilt show. She decided that since the spinal cord injury patients are permanent Hampton residents, they should receive the Hampton City Council challenge coin and she asked Tuck if council would consider it.
"When I met Cassi through this quilting project, I was so impressed by the challenge of making 47 quilts and delivering them and making sure they are permanently kept with these veterans, I felt like I had to do something," Leary said. "This is like neighbor helping neighbor."
Williams can be reached by phone at 757-247-4644.
The Old Dudes Motorcycle Club of Gloucester will distribute Quilts of Valor and Hampton City Councilman Donnie Tuck will present City Council challenge coins to patients in the Hampton VA Medical Center Spinal Cord Unit Saturday. The event is not open to the public.