Group turns scraps into hope, help for hundreds

‘This lets them know someone cares’

by BETH ALTENA 

Members of the quilting group Pieces of the Heart meet during a thank-you luncheon offered by staff at Rockford Ambulance on Wednesday, April 25. The women (and one man) who turn scraps into quilts usually work from their own homes, so the visit together was a special treat.

Estelle Fessenden doesn’t know exactly how many people have received quilts stitched by a group she set in place. Pieces of the Heart was an idea she had and a group she started in 2001, sewing a little love into quilts given to those in need. Organized from her home not far from Rockford Ambulance offices on Ten Mile and Shaner Avenue, last year alone the group gave out over 600 quilts.

The 15 members of the quilting group were gathered together Wednesday, April 25 for a thank-you luncheon offered by Rockford Ambulance staff in appreciation for their donations. Since members of the group mostly work from their own homes, it was a special treat to get together all in once place. Ambulance staff, including Roger Morgan, were thrilled to praise the efforts of the members and thank them for their generosity.

“It started out with the Women’s Resource Center and branched out,” Fessenden said.

While working at a fabric store, which has since closed, Fessenden said she thought to put an excess of scrap fabric to good use. At the resource center, the small quilts went to kids who are at a tough time in their lives and who may have arrived at the shelter with nothing but the clothes on their backs.

More than a decade later, the group has donated quilts to medical first responders such as Rockford Ambulance, to veterans, to the elderly, to neonatal units and to dialysis patients. Over the years they have provided comfort, caring and something to hang on to for thousands of men, women and children.

Rockford Ambulance Paramedic Brent Jones was there to thank the volunteer group, and said following the luncheon he was going to take one of the quilts to an elderly woman who had suffered from a brain tumor. “We like to keep an eye on her and check in with her,” he said.

He described how much such a simple gesture can mean to someone. “You should see the looks on the faces of the people we give them to,” he said. “We like to take them to people in nursing homes. Sometimes they are put in there and no one comes to visit them. Then we give them this quilt and they just light up. It’s like they know someone still cares about them.”

Jones said staff often gives them to people in continuing care homes in Kent and surrounding counties.

Fessenden said the quilts are often given to dialysis patients, who often suffer from coldness. Along with stuffed animals that people donate to the ambulance service, the quilts are given to children who are transported. It gives them something to hang on to in a tough time.

Quilter Marilyn Victor said the group can use scraps as small as a two-inch piece. She said the group is always especially looking for boy quilt material: jungle prints, animal prints, strong boy colors or other not-girly types.

“Everyone loves to donate pink and peach and purple,” Victor observed.

At the shelter, the boys there are under age 14 and the quilts are something important in their uncertain lives. “They are only allowed until the age of 14 because by then they are at risk of being abusive themselves,” she stated.

For the younger ones, the quilts represent a safety net, security, even a plaything when they have little else to call their own. “They drape them around themselves. They use them to make themselves feel safe. We call them cuddle quilts. They even wrap them up like a stuffed animal and just hug them.”

The smaller sized quilts are also perfect for infants.

Victor said some of the members take on different jobs of piecing the quilts together. Some of the members just piece the tops and others take on the more physically difficult work of sewing the tops through the batting to the back of the quilt. “We are like a factory,” she laughed.

Materials are often donated and always desperately needed. In addition to fabric and thread, the cost of batting has risen dramatically in recent years. Fessenden used to purchase most of the batting and still does, but donations of the material is greatly appreciated. Morgan said anyone who wants to donate to the cause is welcome to bring material to the office of Rockford Ambulance, and the staff there will make sure it gets to the right destination.

Fabric can be any color, and Victor said with creativity, it can be turned into a thing of beauty. “I never saw a quilt I didn’t like, but we do try not to make depressing quilts.”

Material can be anything soft and not itchy: t-shirt and sweatshirt material, polyester, cotton or otherwise pleasant feeling. All will be put to good use.

“We do it because we love it and it makes us feel good, too,” said Victor. “You couldn’t make us stop if you wanted to. We love it so.”

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