Photo Pillows Cushion Parents’ Deployment for Military Kids

Hayden loves snuggling with his picture pillow of dad Justin. (Photo courtesy of Pillows for Military Children)
Sarasota, Fla. – Sandra Stafford knows what it’s like to have a parent in the military. Her father served in the Air Force and was stationed all over the globe. “Kids with deployed parents miss those hugs and cuddles,” she said. 

That’s why her organization, Pillows for Military Children, fills a real need. The pillows help kids stay connected with the deployed parent during their absence, providing a source of comfort, especially at bedtime, she said. 

Funded by donations, the pillows are peanut-shaped, with a photo of the military parent on one side, and a personal letter to the child on the other. “They’re something to help a child remember, and something to snuggle with when Mommy or Daddy can’t be there,” she said. 

Stafford said she got the idea for the pillow project after her son Justin deployed to Iraq from Fort Carson, Colo., in March 2010. Jennifer, his fiancée in Colorado Springs, was putting together a care package when her son Hayden wanted to add a little something of his own. The three-year-old went to his bedroom, Stafford said, and picked out his favorite plush rabbit. 

Hayden’s selfless act inspired her to start a nonprofit foundation, PHAFF – Pillows Honoring Armed Forces Foundation, which serves all branches of the military.

There is never any cost to the family, regardless of the number of children, she said. “Families with deployed, wounded, or deceased members of the military have already paid enough in terms of their sacrifice.” 

Stafford uses special computer software to transfer the photos onto the fabric. Her website,, contains easy instructions on how to order. Photos, she said, can be of the individual soldier, or the soldier with his or her child.

Being a military kid can be hard. Stafford’s pillows, reminders of a parent’s love from far away, make life a little softer.

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