Published: July 14, 2013
It wasn't her dad, but it was the next best thing: a cuddly quilt adorned with pictures of her personal superhero.
A quilt bursting with bright bubble-gum and pastel cotton-candy shades of pink - 8-year-old Camilla Clark's favorite color.
"I was thinking maybe you'd like pink," quilter Chris Czajka said with a knowing smile as she presented the blanket to Camilla at the Southeast YMCA on June 21. Camilla smiled shyly, a telltale pink headband situated atop her brown bob.
Czajka had noticed the girl's apparent love for pink when her mother, Maria Clark, emailed pictures of the girl and her deployed father to Operation Kid Comfort. It's a local branch of a national organization that creates quilts for military kids whose parents are overseas.
Each quilt features at least four pictures of the child's deployed parent, printed onto photo fabric panels and sewn into the quilt.
So far the group has distributed 650 quilts in its five years, said Tracy Flannery, the daughter of a Navy veteran who launched the group while going through a painful divorce.
Launching the local group "got me out of my own pity party," she said. "I couldn't believe we didn't have a branch here. If anybody is feeling lost, just go help somebody. It brought a smile to my face."
Each quilt costs between $50 and $100 to make, depending on the availability of donated materials. The Southeast YMCA donates the photo fabric for the quilts, bringing that cost down significantly, Flannery said.
But creating the perfect quilt sometimes requires a special shopping trip to the fabric store for fun cloth or pricey equipment.
The women don't mind.
Fancy sewing machines "are our midlife crises, our Harleys," Flannery said with a laugh. "We think nothing of it."
Besides, many of the group's volunteers "need to be doing this for families as much as the families need them," Flannery added. "They have the time, the talent. This makes them happy women."
The quilts make the military wives who order them happy women, too.
"She will be sleeping in it, any time he is deployed and she is down," Camilla's mom said of her daughter's quilt. "But it's more for me, emotionally, than anything."
"That's what a lot of the wives say," she said. "When the kids go to bed, they sneak in and take their quilts and snuggle up in them."