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Military widow spends her days in COVID-19 isolation knitting hats for troops overseas

Joan Windis has been making hats for service members from her home and sends them to Iraq and Afghanistan through the Seminole non-profit Operation: Military Matters

SEMINOLE, Fla. — For four years, Joan Windis’ fingers have been very busy. The 83-year-old knits hats for military members overseas.

“It’s very fulfilling. I feel good when I do that,” she said. “They are for the troops.”

Windis understands what it’s like to miss a service member. Her husband, Ralph, who died in 1991, served in Korea.

“Thank God he came home,” she said.

She knits hats for people like her husband. They are shipped in care packages by a non-profit called Operation: Military Matters, which has sent hundreds of packages to Iraq and Afghanistan. Included in many of those boxes are Joan’s hats.

“I try to do it at least one every other day and I can’t keep up with it,” she said. “I like to change the colors. I don’t use pink or yellow or anything bright, but I make them double heavy so that they can feel at least a little warmth when they’re out in the cold.”

She dropped off 27 hats on Monday with Kadi Tubbs, who helps run OMM. Windis has lost track of how many she’s knitted for OMM in four years. She completed 100 red and green hats for Christmas in 2019. 

Typically, she knits in a group with friends, but because of social distancing measures in place due to the concerns over coronavirus, she’s been knitting alone for weeks.

“I’ve taught some other people how to do them and some people do give me them but right now everyone is staying home so it’s up to me to do the hats,” she said. “I have to be careful. I don’t want to get sick. But I’m very healthy and I just keep plugging away.”

The knitting gives her purpose.

“It gives me a purpose and it makes me feel good,” Windis said. “It’s a good feeling and when (servicemembers) send the pictures back and they’re all wearing them, I get such a charge out of that. Isn’t that wonderful? They’re all making faces and wearing the masks and it’s just a wonderful feeling.”

Windis is always accepting donations for her projects. She likes “dark colors except for black” according to Tubbs. Her favorites are red and green for Christmas. 

Yarn can be shipped to Operation: Military Matters at PO Box 8132, Seminole, FL, 33775.

After dropping off her latest batch of hats, Windis smiled at Tubbs and planned her afternoon.

“I have to go home and get started all over again," she said.

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