Loving hands continue the tradition of making quilts for the needy

In 2005, a local LDS Women’s Relief Group set a goal of making 2005 quilts in the year 2005. Not only was that goal exceeded, but it gave birth to an ongoing tradition that continues at the North Big Horn Senior Center today—making quilts for those in need.

“They came in and they came in from all over, not just from here,” said Verna Hawkins, a participant in that early effort. “Every church, every organization, every school would bring them here and we would box them up, filling trucks that came from Salt Lake City.”

The truckloads of quilts were taken to the Humanitarian Center sponsored by the LDS church. The Humanitarian Center sent them to recipients around the world.

Hawkins said the Women’s Relief Group effort brought in so many quilts that eventually the group was asked to stop sending quilts to Utah and to distribute their quilts within their own area.

North Big Horn Senior Center quilters (l-r) Caroline Boltz, Verna Hawkins, Erma Palan, Joan Swisher, Judy Quarles and Eva Wagner enjoy a visit while tying a quilt at the center. Patti Carpenter photo
North Big Horn Senior Center quilters (l-r) Caroline Boltz, Verna Hawkins, Erma Palan, Joan Swisher, Judy Quarles and Eva Wagner enjoy a visit while tying a quilt at the center.
Patti Carpenter photo

This early effort inspired Hawkins to start a quilting group at the Senior Center. That group is celebrating its 10-year anniversary of making quilts intended for not only the body but the spirit, as well.

“The gift is not the quilt but the warmth of the person who made it,” said Hawkins, who now heads the program in her retirement.

“We give them at Christmastime. They are included in the baskets distributed to needy families, and we give to people who are suffering and need a hug, like people who have cancer. We give to CARES (an organization that helps domestic violence victims), to the public health nurses who distribute them to participants in their Best Beginnings program,” said Senior Center Director Denise Andersen. “Needless to say, once the 2005 goal was met and surpassed we realized that there was this huge need for people to continue the good work. We also realized that there are so many people out there who were willing to give material that our overhead was literally null and void to continue this activity.”

Andersen said the program fits perfectly with the Center’s outreach efforts.

“We call it an outreach activity, because to get people to come into the senior center, or to work on behalf of the senior center in their own homes, is a fabulous way of introducing ourselves into their lives,” she said. “People who we might never see for any other reason are brought into the fold.”

Hawkins said she likes to leave the choice of activities up to the participants, so, with the exception of teaching a class here and there, the program is somewhat unstructured. The quilting room is open during normal center hours and those participating can come and go as they please, doing as much, or as little, as they please.

“If they don’t want to sew on a quilt, we have other projects, like right now we’re sewing capes for the superheros at the public library,” said Hawkins.

Andersen said the Center’s staff has learned many lessons from the successful quilting program, which now has its own special room at the Center.

“This taught us that the way you keep volunteers volunteering is to let them do what they love, so if someone wants to cut squares, they cut squares, if someone wants to bind, they bind, if someone wants to tie, they tie,” said Andersen. “I think the thing about it is that Verna and her group have found that by doing this activity here (at the Center), that which isn’t possible on their own is possible through the group. That ultimately is the whole idea of the Senior Center and its potential in our community because what you can’t do on your own, we can do together. Ultimately, that’s what it takes to be a Good Samaritan and a good community advocate,” said Andersen.

Hawkins said, for many seniors, making quilts gives them a purpose.

“It feels fantastic to do this, it gives a purpose, you get up in the morning knowing that you have a purpose and you’re not just sitting at home wondering about whatever ache and pain you have today or what doctor’s appointment you have to go to,” she said.

Andersen said the Center is honoring the quilters this year by having them ride on their own special float in the Mustang Days parade. Normally the Center names one or two VIPs to represent it in the parade.

“This year in lieu of having a couple or an individual represent the Senior Center in the parade, we decided to celebrate 10 years of giving and contributing to the world, by recognizing the efforts of our quilters,” said Andersen. “You can only imagine how many people over the years have been involved in this project. There is no way we could actually sit down and write out everyone’s name and contribution because we would for sure miss someone.”

Andersen put out the call this week that anyone who has participated in the program is welcome to ride on the float.

“There’s so much that goes into this that makes it a project that is sustainable,” said Andersen. “There’s nothing more home and nothing more glorious than wrapping yourself in a warm hug and that’s really, ultimately, what these quilts are. They are a warm hug from our quilters at the Center. So I think this is very appropriate and in keeping with the hometown theme of this year’s parade to honor them in the parade.”

Andersen said the Center’s quilters are known statewide and she receives calls on a weekly basis asking about the quilting operation. Some bring in quilts that have been stashed for generations that need to be finished; others donate materials.

“There are angels here at the Center every day,” said Andersen. “We feel like this is a wonderful opportunity to say thank you to them for a wonderful 10 years of outreach and humanitarianism that has been extended through many, many helpful hands and we hope that it will go on and on.”

By Patti Carpenter