Zillions of 19-year-olds hit the beach this summer. But that number didn't include Jessica Porter of Hudson, Fla., who spent most days in her family's garage turned sewing room designing and stitching quilts. She plans to sew at least 287 of them—one for every American soldier killed, so far, in Iraq. What prompted her crusade? "They're not just names or statistics," says Porter. "Their unselfishness, the things they gave up, really inspire me."
With the help of her friend Ruthann Pleus, 22, Porter has launched what she calls Operation Homefront Quilts, an ambitious project to offer comfort to families who have lost loved ones in the war. Though she has only completed 14 so far (16 more are in various stages of development), Porter is undeterred, even with almost-daily reports of new casualties. "They've made the ultimate sacrifice," says Porter, who lost an uncle in the Vietnam War. "I just feel honored to be able to do this for them."
The families who have received her gifts appreciate her determination. "It gives me a great, warm feeling, because you think our young people don't know what war is about," says Lt. Col. Joe Rippetoe, whose son Russell, an Army Ranger, was killed by a car bomb on April 3 and who received one of Porter's first quilts, a gold blanket decorated with red, white and blue stars. "Every time I look at it," he adds, "I can see the meaning."
Always patriotic in theme, each quilt takes 12 to 15 hours and uses about $30 worth of materials, which Porter, who was home-schooled, pays for by working as an assistant to her mother, Joanne, 51, a seamstress who makes period costumes for Civil War reenactments. (Dad Jay, 55, is a letter carrier.) As the death toll mounted, she enlisted help—pattern company McCall's donated materials and her local quilt guild has pitched in. "No one likes [our troops] being in Iraq, but we've got to finish," Porter says. "And I'll keep going until the end."
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