Helping those in need is second nature to many people and I think it’s the glue that keeps communities together. As simple as bringing a casserole ’round or on a much larger scale, rural families harvesting crops for a neighbor in distress. Lending a hand. I’ll have to admit, I’ve never been particularly fond of the phrase, “charity knitting” or charity whatever as I don’t think most anyone wants to receive charity and giving charity sounds funny and comes off a bit presumptuous. While the name isn’t important, it’s the kindness behind it that people remember.
My Google feed is stacked with organizations who gather their members together to stitch, knit, crochet and sew for a good cause. From the most vulnerable and young in hospital nurseries and homeless to the big burly Marine who weeps at the thoughtfulness of a quilting group he doesn’t know but vowed to protect on his watch. Most of us have so much that it’s almost an obligation to pay it forward. Thanks to outward looking mission statements, libraries and churches that eagerly donate space; finding a place to contribute skills is as easy as making a garter stitch dish cloth.
The story I’m sharing with you today started as a challenge for young corporate managers to create something meaningful with the help of others. Sort of like an Eagle Scout project! Caring Quilts Day started in 1999 and is still rockin’ it. Here’s Kim’s story:
Kim Gannaway and Caring Quilts Day:
Caring Quilts came to be because of a workshop I was taking back in 1999. The assignment was to create something that you were passionate about, and you couldn’t do it by yourself – you had to create a community to share in your passion.
So, after several starts and stops, I came up with a quilting project, which is something I’ve loved to do since college – so far, so good. And, I worked at Target Corporation, so I checked to see if I could donate them to Target House, which is a home-away-from-home for the families of kids who are receiving treatment for life-threatening illnesses at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis, TN. They said yes!
Similar to a Ronald McDonald house, Target House is set up for longer-term care. Families from all over the world can stay for free of charge for as long as they need to – some are there a few weeks or months, some have stayed for a few years. You’ll hear all kinds of languages spoken there. There are 98 apartments with several common areas for the families to interact.
I’ve had the privilege of visiting Target House 3 times while I worked at Target, and it is indeed a very special place. At first, I expected a very depressing place, but it was the opposite. The support, love and care that the staff and the families give each other is very tangible. Sure, there are very sick children with no hair because of their chemo treatments, or scars from surgery, but there is also incredible support there, which is just as important a factor as the medical treatment. The staff and families all speak the same ‘medical’ language and can truly understand what each other is going through. Handing out quilts to the kids is truly one of the highlights of my life.
So, back to the Caring Quilts project – I needed to involve a community. Not so easy – that means asking people for help, which is not easy for me to do. Can’t I just do it myself? Definitely getting out of my comfort zone, I asked various companies for donations of fabric, batting and thread, as well as asking my local quilt group if they’d be willing to help make the quilts. They all said yes! We were a small group, though, so I decided to have a special day where lots of people could come and quilt, even those who didn’t know anything about quilting could help with tying knots and making labels. So friends and family and friends of friends came, and we made about 50 quilts that first year, which was one for every child staying at Target House. We even had a young Girl Scout troop come and help draw the personalized labels – everyone was so enthusiastic! This became a tradition for us too. I was so humbled by everyone’s generosity and willingness to give of their time and talents.
So, Caring Quilts started the first year that Target House opened back in 1999 and has continued into 2016, even through an expansion where Target House doubled their number of apartments. We will be delivering about 170 quilts to Target House this year, thanks to the continued generosity of about 45 volunteers. Overall, I estimate we’ve made almost 1800 quilts over the years. And I still am humbled by the enthusiasm of so many – that sense of community is truly a powerful thing.
Caring Quilts Day 2016 is Saturday, March 12, 2016 from 9:00 – 4:00 p.m. It’s held in one of the big rooms at Shepherd of the Valley Lutheran Church in Apple Valley, MN. For up to date info, Kim set up a Caring Quilts Facebook Page.
If you’d like to get your service scissors out here is a short list of five good, solid programs where your work effort will be put to good use and will make it to the intended person or group of people who could use a helping hand. There are many good groups that would love for you to get involved!