Voices

Pillowcase ladies brighten days of seriously ill children

Gabriella Howe, 18, a volunteer from Kohl’s department stores, helps Jetty Carrick, right, iron fabric to be cut and then sewed into pillowcases by members of the ConKerr Cancer chapter last Thursday at Cozy Quilt Shop in north Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)
Gabriella Howe, 18, a volunteer from Kohl’s department stores, helps Jetty Carrick, right, iron fabric to be cut and then sewed into pillowcases by members of the ConKerr Cancer chapter last Thursday at Cozy Quilt Shop in north Spokane. (Tyler Tjomsland)

The sewing machines at the Cozy Quilt Shop on North Division Street were working so hard they seemed to generate heat as the members of the local ConKerr Cancer chapter gathered to make pillowcases last Thursday

About a dozen women were there, and they expected that day to make between 150 and 200 pillowcases, some featuring frogs, some with cartoon characters and other fun patterns.

The recipients of the pillowcases are children with cancer or other life-threatening illnesses who are receiving treatment at Providence Sacred Heart Medical Center and Shriners Hospitals for Children.

“It means so much to them. Sometimes they bring the pillowcase back to the hospital, if they have to return for more treatment,” said Joyce Beach, who started the Spokane chapter of the national organization two years ago with her longtime friend June Peck.

ConKerr Cancer was started by Cindy Kerr in 2002, when her son was diagnosed with cancer. She made a pillowcase to cheer him up, and soon she was taking pillowcases to other children in the oncology unit at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, where he was staying. ConKerr Cancer has grown to 125 chapters in the U.S. and also is active in South Africa and Canada.

Beach came up with the idea to start a ConKerr Cancer chapter while she was staying with her ill grandson at a hospital in Michigan, in December 2009.

“One day someone came into his room and asked if he wanted to make a pillowcase,” Beach said. “He picked fabric with Bart Simpson on it and he used to say, ‘I never knew I was gonna be sleeping with Bart Simpson.’ ”

It’s a simple idea: On the third Thursday of every month the pillowcase ladies, as they affectionately refer to themselves, meet at Sacred Heart. They bring sewing machines, thread and plastic crates full of fabric kits, cut and ready to turn into pillowcases. Once situated at the hospital, the women offer to help children sew a pillowcase to brighten their rooms and their spirits. If the child is too sick to participate, then a pillowcase lady will do the sewing after the child has picked out the fabric.

“It means so much to them to have something that’s theirs,” Peck said. “When a child is in the hospital for a long time, it’s because it’s very, very ill. We just try to make it a little better for them.” On the days they sew at Sacred Heart, they drop off a stack of 35 ready-made pillowcases at Shriners.

Since the Spokane ConKerr Cancer chapter got together in June 2010, the group has produced 1,337 pillowcases and been awarded two sewing machines for its productivity.

Last week’s sewing event was part of a nationwide challenge for ConKerr Cancer chapters to produce 44,000 pillowcases in September.

“Across the country 44,000 children are in cancer treatment during the month of September,” said Beach, “and we want to make a pillowcase in honor of each one of them.” The pillowcases made in Spokane stay in Spokane.

“Everything we do stays right here,” Beach said. “Every dollar we get in donations goes to fabric and thread. We are all volunteers, we don’t have any staff.”

Peck said they do all their shopping using coupons and other special offers for quality fabric, and manage to keep the cost of each pillowcase to $7 or less.

“We are a magnet for hugs and tears when we are at the hospital,” Beach said. “When your child is sick, it’s so nice to do something normal with them.”



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