In April 2006, my daughter was carrying out her second tour of duty in Iraq. Attempting to calm my own mind, I joined a local prayer shawl group and began knitting prayer shawls for the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington DC. Using the database of prayer shawl groups located at the ministry’s website, http://www.shawlministry.com, I contacted about 250 existing prayer shawl groups suggesting they consider sending prayer shawls to the wounded soldiers at Walter Reed. Within a short time, Chaplain John Kallerson at Walter Reed said he was receiving an average 100 prayer shawls weekly and giving them out to grateful soldiers and their families as quickly as they came in.
Chaplain Kallerson continued to accept prayer shawls until August 2007 when he was replaced by a new chaplain. He would pile them onto a cart and happily distribute shawls to soldiers on the hospital floor. He made an effort to acknowledge every prayer shawl gift. I will warn you to not expect a thank you note from the soldier or their family, having sent 20 prayer shawls to Walter Reed and receiving one thank you note from a grieving mother. She was most appreciative for the time, love, and caring that went into the prayer shawl. It felt good to hear from her, but we cannot place such expectations on families who are so stressed. Just know your work is appreciated – that is enough. The love that goes into making these shawls gives nearly as much reward to you, the knitter, as it does to these families!
Prayer Shawls 4 Fallen Soldiers eventually evolved as concern turned toward the families who have sacrificed all. With the help of former Senator Ted Kennedy, I was able to obtain clearance to receive the list of Army casualties. Within a short time, PS4FS was up and running with a huge list to fulfill. There were thousands of family names to contact to ask if they would like to have a prayer shawl in memory of their loved one. The knitting/crocheting groups were eager and willing. This first stage of PS4FS was the main program - matching zip codes of knitters to the military families. Within 14 months, the list was nearly complete.
We then entered the second stage of the ministry: a maintenance stage, also called the NPC (No Post Card) Program. This was a sort of "clean up" of the many families who had not responded to our initial requests. Post cards were sent out to these "no response" addresses, and many more eagerly received a loving prayer shawl in memory of a loved one. Time did not matter - whether a military fallen was from 2003 or more recent months, families were most appreciative that we persisted and found them. It took 8 months to fulfill the NPC program.
The third stage, called the Dover Program, began October 2009. Dover Air Base Chaplain David Sorensen contacted us to ask if prayer shawls could be delivered to the base to hand out to families who traveled there to witness the Dignified Transfer of their loved ones. The coupling of these two programs has proven very successful as the majority of fallen military have family representation at this event. The Dover Chaplains tell us how happy the families are to receive the gifts, which warm them as they walk out to the base's tarmac. The prayer shawls give them a lasting memory knowing Americans care about their loss. The Dover Program has delivered prayer shawls to families from the Navy, Marines, and Army,and Air Force. In January 2013, we received the good news that the number of casualties are down, to stop sending prayer shawls for the time being. This is the best news our ministry could receive!
Therefore, we now turn our attention back to the "Direct Contact" program, where we may Google military names in order to find families who might wish to have a loving prayer shawl. You may find instructions for this program on the "Direct Contract" page.