It began in the spring of 2009 with a conversation in a Wenatchee quilt shop.
Cathy Lobe, a member of Spokane’s Retired Home Economists, inquired about a number of homemade placemats hanging on the wall. The placemats, Lobe learned, were made by local quilters and donated to Wenatchee’s Meals on Wheels program. Lobe, an avid sewer, came home and shared the idea with the other women of the Spokane Retired Home Economists.
After some discussion and planning, Lobe and members Jan Stripes, Betsy Blake, Donna Graham and Gloria Irsfeld agreed to meet every other month to make their own homemade placemats, which they donate to Spokane’s Meals on Wheels program.
Since 2010, the group has made 2,100 placemats for Meals on Wheels recipients. The placemats also are used in meal centers.
The women, who all hold degrees in home economics, have the same goal.
“It’s ingrained in our family and consumer sciences mind that we give back,” Graham said. “Having contributed more than money and making somebody happy – that’s a real joy,” she said.
Lobe said she feels the same way. “I always knew that sewing was going to be a part of my life, but I’m not going to make clothes. I’m making them (the placemats) for somebody else, and they’re loving it,” she said.
The placemats are made with fabric and supplies donated from other women in the home economists group, giving each a unique look. The placemats include a tag, made by Lobe’s husband, Gary, which says “Made especially for you by a Retired Home Economist.” The women said the response has been positive, both from Meals on Wheels and the clients.
“One senior said that the placemats were so lovely that they should be sold at Kmart,” Lobe said.
Graham added, “For some of the seniors, that was the only thing they got for Christmas in the way of gift,” Graham said.
Irsfeld said it doesn’t take much to make those receiving the placemats happy. “It’s just a simple touch to give somebody pleasure,” she said.
The group’s efforts don’t stop with placemats. During this past holiday season, they called themselves “Christmas Angels,” collected 150 Christmas socks and filled them with personal hygiene products. The socks were donated to the veterans program at Volunteers of America and the CAPA program at Catholic Charities, which includes Crosswalk for teens and Hope House for single moms. The socks were a welcome surprise.
“We were told the Crosswalk kids decorated their Christmas socks,” Lobe said. The Christmas Angels made their goal for this year to 225 socks.
“The response was so great that we and the charities want to do it again. We know exactly what they would like to have now,” Lobe said.
Beyond the Christmas Angels and the placemats, Lobe said their next project is to start a blog about their efforts. She said they want to challenge others to make placemats, similar to the “Million Pillowcase Challenge,” a nationwide project where homemade pillowcases made from simple patterns are donated to local charities.
“Why can’t our placemat project go national?” Lobe asked.