On Nov. 11, 2019, a community center on the shores of Lake Ontario in Rochester, N.Y., was filled to capacity with veterans and their supporters to witness a most special occasion: the presentation of Lap Robes for Veterans’ 10,000th robe.
A lap robe is a thick blanket to warm one’s lap and legs while traveling or sitting. This beautiful lap robe went to a Korean War Marine Corps veteran, which was fitting: the nonprofit was founded by the wife of a USMC veteran, because of a disabled USMC veteran she witnessed in need 12 years prior.
It was a cold, rainy day in November 2007 when Lap Robes for Veterans founder Nancy Van Apeldoorn of Rochester noticed Vietnam veteran Wally Gekoski shivering in his wheelchair at the Marine Corps' 232nd birthday celebration in Washington, D.C.
Heated fleece blankets were available for dignitaries at the outdoor event, but despite her best efforts Van Apeldoorn was not able to procure one for Wally, who died several weeks later. She vowed to start an organization in his memory to help keep other veterans honored and warm via handcrafted blankets.
Since that bittersweet moment, Van Apeldoorn and her dedicated, talented team of about 35 volunteers have sewn over 11,000 fleece and quilted lap robes inside donated space at Jackie Lynn’s Discount Sewing Center in a suburb of Rochester.
“I call this group Nancy’s army because you ladies are amazing,” said then-Monroe County Executive Cheryl Dinolfo at the 2019 presentation event. “This is something that is really unique to Rochester and Monroe County [NY] and thanks to you, in our hearts it is always Veterans Day here.”
The 11,000-plus lap robes made thus far have been gifted to veterans of all ages via area nursing homes, hospices, hospitals, organizations, American Legions, personal referrals and at the Greater Rochester International Airport to Honor Flight Rochester participants. Nancy's husband Bruce is commander of American Legion Post 603 in Webster.
Lap Robes for Veterans has also made special lap robes for many special populations, including Gold Star Mothers, amputees, injured police officers and members of Vietnam Veterans Chapter 126 in Manhattan. Each lap robe costs about $35 in materials to make and is crafted with fabric recognizing the veteran’s branch of service. The organization depends entirely upon donations from individuals and organizations to continue its mission.
For more information, visit the group at https://www.facebook.com/LapRobesForVeterans.