Janet Woods will make 18 hand-fashioned quilts for Florida’s fallen police officers this year, with heartfelt elements stitched into their fabric like photos, their badges, and a thin blue line, which symbolizes support for those who serve. “I don’t think there’s a quilt I make that doesn’t have a teardrop on it,” she says.
She’s been making quilts and hand-delivering them to families of fallen officers in conjunction with the 9463 Foundation as a volunteer for close to ten years. “I got involved with the organization through my boyfriend, a retired New York firefighter. When I see what the officers do and how much they help the community, they put their lives on the line every single day for us, this is the least I can do. God gave me the gift of sewing and creativity and if I do not use that gift to help others, I don’t deserve it,” she says.
Every year in March, the 9463 Foundation holds a statewide end-of-watch motorcycle ride to honor fallen police officers. Janet presents the quilts personally to each family, and a larger quilt incorporating all of the officers is donated to the American Police Hall of Fame in Titusville and hung in its chapel. Janet also volunteers with the Police Hall of Fame to help with a toy drive to deliver Christmas gifts to children who have lost a police parent. Additionally, she works to help the organization provide laptops to children of fallen officers on their 17th birthday and $500 gift cards to surviving spouses.
Originally from New York, Janet, a retired legal secretary, moved to Florida ten years ago. She met her boyfriend online and ever since, they have been volunteering together at the foundation and also with South Florida Rest (aka Canteen), an organization that hydrates firefighters and police officers while on call at emergency scenes. “We bring water, Gatorade, snacks, and food to first responders who are at the scene of an accident, a fire, a SWAT call, or wherever they need us,” she says.
When she’s not making quilts or helping hydrate first responders, she’s sewing masks. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, she made more than 9,300 masks with patriotic or specific meaningful fabrics, donating them to police and fire agencies, hospitals, and others all over the country. “I started doing them for family and friends, but with all the news about first responders being desperate for masks, I stepped up my game and started making them for the larger organizations. It has really taken off by word of mouth.”
You’ll always find Janet with a bag of handmade masks and she has even started giving them out to strangers, which has resulted in some amazing interactions. “I always carry my bag of masks with me. I ran into a CVS pharmacy and a huge man was standing in line with a paper towel over his face. I told him ‘oh you need a mask’ and he said to me briskly ‘what do you mean?’ I went into my bag and got out a handmade design for him and when I gave it to him he cried. Sometimes it’s truly the little things that happen that can be so heart-wrenching,” she says, getting teary-eyed herself. “I met another person, a woman in a wheelchair heading into Kohl’s with a huge box of return items. I told her that they didn’t open for 20 more minutes and she started packing her stuff back into her car. I helped her with her items and gave her a mask. It just made me feel so good and set off this desire to randomly help strangers. Sometimes I give masks to my friends with instructions to just hand them out and help people to see how it makes them feel. I want my friends to experience the same joy that I do by helping others with this small token of gratitude to feel what I feel. It’s amazing.”
Her passion for serving others has earned Janet recognition of being named a CGI Celebrating Strength Hero. She is one of four people chosen statewide who have won a $1,000 prize from the window and door manufacturer in its contest to recognize everyday heroes going above and beyond to help others. If chosen as the overall winner after a public voting campaign, she could win an additional $5,000.
“Janet’s volunteer work is incredibly inspiring. The work she is doing assists families during their darkest hours and supports first responders when most in need,” said Bob Keller, President of the Southeast Business Unit for PGT Innovations, CGI’s parent company. “Her notable compassion is certainly worthy of recognition and we are honored to offer her a small token of appreciation.”
A fellow volunteer at the 9463 Foundation nominated Janet to be a CGI Celebrating Strength Hero. Here is some of what she said: “Janet Woods is not only a hero but an angel, and I could not think of a better person to be nominated for this award. She has a God-given talent and she uses it to bring some light into the lives of families who are going through their darkest days. I have personally witnessed these (fallen officer quilt) presentations and they are very touching. Janet recently shared a thank you letter she received from the wife of a police officer who was killed in the line of duty and had received one of these beautiful quilts and in part, the note read, “I will definitely use it on my hard days when I miss him so much… I promise you when grandchildren are born, this quilt will be passed on to keep them soft and warm and most importantly never be forgotten.”
To find out more about all of the winners and to cast your vote, click here.