Shipping more than 20,000 pillows to Iraq and Afghanistan is hard work, but heartfelt thank-yous from troops in combat zones make it well worth the effort for two Beaufort military moms.
Inspired by a segment on NBC's "The Today Show" about a sewing school in Midland Park, N.J., that sent more than 1,000 pillows to troops overseas, Barbara Farrior and her longtime friend Jenny Bush created Pillows for Patriots in July 2009.
Farrior's son, Army Capt. Justin Daubert, was set to deploy to Iraq, and Bush's son, Marine Lt. Jonathan Bush, already was in Afghanistan.
Bush often recounted to his mother tales of sleeping on rocks or against the tough rubber wheels of Humvees while on patrol because they are not issued pillows by the military.
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"They are deployed to these forward operating bases in the middle of nowhere, and there's no (exchange) where they can go and buy things," Bush said. "When they go out on patrol, they just have what's on their back."
So Bush and Farrior founded their nonprofit organization to send pillows to their sons' units, with a little help from Harris Pillow Supply.
Farrior initially approached the business, which relocated from Chicago to Beaufort in 1979,to ask about the best stuffing for a pillow that would need to be comfortable, able to fit easily in a soldier's pack and washable.
Business owners John Harris and his son, Patrick, instead offered to sell 12-by-16-inch pillows at cost to the two women. The camouflaged pillows are about 40 percent smaller than bed pillows. Pillows for Patriots was born.
"We thought it was a great idea. I mean we're already set up to make pillows," Patrick Harris said. "These pillows are a small token to show our appreciation for what they're doing for us."
Almost immediately, donations and requests for pillows came pouring in from all over the country, Farrior said.
"After the first week, I called (Harris Pillow Supply) and said, 'Are you sure you want to do this? This could get kind of big,' " Farrior said.
In its first year, Pillows for Patriots has raised more than $45,000 and sent more than 20,000 pillows to Army and Marine units deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. Families and friends of troops serving in Iraq and Afghanistan can request the pillows be sent to their units through the charity's website.
But Farrior said their work is far from finished, and they soon plan to send another 2,000 pillows overseas.
The thank-you notes and phone calls they have received are all they need to keep them going.
"The gracious and heartfelt thanks we've received from the troops have made it all worth it," Farrior said. "You can tell they really mean it."