Almost every Thursday afternoon, kraft paper is placed over Janet Walker’s dining room table in preparation for the creativity to come.

Paper of different colors, patterns and thickness, scissors, ribbon, twine, stamps and more sit atop the table, while a half-dozen or more women encircle it, working to create homemade cards with heart and humor.

Approximately 70 handmade cards are created monthly and distributed to area assisted-living facilities, the homebound, those overcoming medical challenges or really anyone who needs a smile.

“They’re kind of a ‘Hi’, pick-you-up sort of thing,” Walker, of Dubuque, said.

Walker is the founder of Cards from America’s Heartland, the group responsible for the cards. The group came about organically, she said, and she never anticipated it to last as long as it has.

“What was a one-night stand turned into a weekly project for 15 years now,” she said.

The members began meeting in January 2004 to create cards to send to soldiers in the 133rd Infantry Regiment of the Iowa National Guard who, at that time, were deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Group member Leta Miller, of Dubuque, added that the cards also included “cartoons, things out of the paper, and comic strips and jokes.”

“So it gave (the soldiers) something to do as well as something to have,” she said.

At its height, the group was making 250 cards per month to send overseas, Walker estimated.

Following the soldiers’ return, the group temporarily disbanded, though members say that didn’t last too long.

“We found out that we liked each other a lot and that we missed it when we weren’t doing our thing,” Walker said.

Each group member has her own specialty in the card-making process, Miller explained. Along with the monthly themed greeting cards, the group also makes birthday cards.

“We have some people that like to color. We have some people who would rather cut and some people who like to put them together,” she said. “So we all get along because everybody wants to do a different thing.”

In the past, the group has also made cards for area police, fire and sheriff’s departments.

And as much as the group’s efforts are a labor of love, the members say that community, friendship and laughter is a big part of the weekly get-together.

“If you don’t meet for a week or so, you get lonesome for each other,” Arleen Ouderkirk, of Sherrill, Iowa, said.

“We all like doing it,” Ruth Woerdehoff, of Dubuque, added. “We all enjoy each other. If not, we don’t know. Nobody’s ever complained.”

Upon completion, the cards are dropped off at facilities around the area to be distributed, Walker said, meaning that most of the time the group doesn’t get to see reactions to their handiwork.

But they don’t seem to mind.

“We’re not doing it for feedback,” Walker said. “It’s kind of a community service.”

Miller added, “It makes a big difference for those in nursing homes because they get tired of the same old faces, the same old thing every day.”

Natalie Marugg, activities director at the Luther Manor Grand Meadows location, said “the residents that receive the cards get joy out of those.”

“For me personally, I think it’s a great thing that there are other people in the world that think about people in a nursing home setting,” she said. “We (as staff) can only do so much in our position, so it’s nice to have these people looking after (our residents’) well being.

“I think it’s great that there’s something from outside being brought in to remind them that they’re thought of.”

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