Once a week a group of women gather at Valley Assembly of God Church, 15618 E. Broadway Ave., to quilt, discuss projects and share a devotional.
But the main reason they meet is to make quilts for cancer patients in the final stages of their lives. Since the Valley Assembly Quilters took on this challenge five years ago, the women have made more than 700 large quilts for Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center patients.
“Everything we do, we do to improve our skills and bless someone else,” said founding member Shirley Kaiser.
The group first formed in 2001 with five members. They gathered just to improve their quilting skills. Jan Jones, nurse manager in the seventh floor cancer unit at Sacred Heart, approached the quilters in 2006 about sewing for the patients. Now there are about 30 members.
The women said they know what a comfort it is to the patients and their families. Many of them have lost a husband to cancer. Sometimes they get thank-you letters from the families. They said often after a patient dies, the families keep the quilts to remind them of their loved ones. Sometimes the quilts are buried with the patient.
The group is eager to share stories of what happens to the quilts. Jones said some families drape them over a chair during the first holiday, birthday or other family gathering. Some families may pass the quilts to other family members for a period of time before it is sent to another family member. Some display them at the funerals. Jones said the different rituals help families deal with their grief.
Jones said they make the quilts without knowing too much about the patient. There was one quilt they struggled to sew – its bright orange color was hard to work with and had a chili pepper design on it. It ended up going to a family who had moved to the area from Arizona, and the daughters of the patient all had kitchens with a chili pepper theme.
“They always fit (the patient’s tastes),” said member Billie Hersh.
They sew the quilts with care – they admire the design and the stitching of everyone’s work. Often, the stitching on the back of the quilt gets as much attention as the design on the front. They take the bigger pieces to Heartbeat Quilting, a quilting shop with a long-arm machine to add the finishing swirls and squiggles of stitching to the quilts. The shop’s owner, Wanda Jefferies, is a member of Valley Assembly Quilters.
Jones said that not every quilting group member belongs to Valley Assembly. They come from all over the area from different churches and denominations. Every meeting is started with time for a devotional before showing off their projects that aren’t necessarily going to a cancer patient.
They all devote lots of time to the group. There are weekends – “Quilt ‘til you wilt” retreats – when they bring potluck dishes to share while they sew all day, going home only at bedtime and coming back first thing in the morning. Valley Assembly lets them use a room in the church and they leave their ironing boards, mats and rulers, but they must haul their sewing machines back and forth.
Karen Trottman said she has had two knee replacement surgeries in the last few years. She wanted to do something charitable, but didn’t feel like her knees would let her do any heavy lifting. Since she can sit and sew to help others with the quilts, she feels like she is contributing.
“I call this my therapy group,” said Pat Clifford. She said she didn’t know anything about quilting when she first joined, but the members took her under their wings and taught her how to quilt.
In fact, there are quilters from varying experience levels in the group – beginners to professionals – but they all take pride in the work they do.
With every quilt headed to the hospital, the quilter sews a label with a blessing inscribed on it.
“May the God of Mercy and Grace cover you with his love.”