INTERNATIONAL FALLS (AP) -- For 20 years volunteers have gathered in the fellowship hall of First Lutheran Church to create quilts of many colors for the world's needy.
Already this year more than two dozen cutters, quilters and sewers have produced 222 quilts to be distributed through Lutheran World Relief.
They join the efforts of volunteers at other area churches, including St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Zion Lutheran Church, and Lutheran churches in Loman and Littlefork.
In 2000, Lutheran World Relief delivered 1,861 tons of material aid to people in need in 21 countries, including medicine, clothing, and soap -- and 371,196 quilts.
Virginia Pollard (left), Edith Holmstrom and Florence Bradley, volunteers of the First Lutheran Church Quilters, prepared the materials to assemble a quilt in the church fellowship hall in International Falls. (AP Photo)
The quilts go to where they are needed, places like Azerbaijan, Georgia and Armenia. They go to refugees and refugee camps. They go to those displaced from their homes due to disaster, war and drought. In 1997, 100 quilts were sent from First Lutheran to flood evacuees in Grand Forks.
"Most of these quilts never go to a house with a bed in it," said Edith Holmstrom, a reluctant local spokeswoman for the many volunteer quilters who find time and energy to help.
"People are living on the ground or in tents," Holmstrom said. "Sometimes they use the quilts for a room divider or to cover a dirt floor in a tent or as a sunshade. They can be used as a backpack at times, or even a home."
Holmstrom recounted the origins of the program: Lutheran World Relief received a request from a man in India for old coats. Coats, he had found, were well used as garments and blankets by those sleeping in the streets.
Holmstrom recalled collecting used coats and opening their seams for easy use as blankets. "We broke a lot of needles on wool coats," she remembered.
With the introduction of the quilt project, standards for shipping and distribution were instituted. Now, volunteers create three-layer, 60-by-80 inch quilts weighing no more than four or five pounds.
And, now, on Thursdays and Fridays from New Years to Holy Week, the basement of First Lutheran turns into a quilt factory with volunteers taking different roles. Volunteers at First Lutheran cut cloth strips into 13-, 16- and 21-inch widths, as large as the fabric remnant allows. These are laid out and sewn together. A blanket, quilting batten or other material is laid on top and then another, third layer of fabric -- pieced or whole -- completes the sandwich.
Edges of the first layer are folded over the other two, seams are machine stitched along the edges, and yarn loops are tied across the surface to hold the sandwich together.
Materials are gathered from many sources. In the past several years, for example, Super 8 Motel has donated old sheets, which are dyed and used for backing material. And cloth remnants are purchased from Anderson Fabrics in Blackduck.
"We often have gorgeous materials," Holmstrom said, noting that quilters in the group are sensitive to the beauty of the fabrics they use. "You can't say every quilt is a work of art, but it is beautiful in itself, something utilitarian and sturdy."
Left over materials are distributed to other organizations, with leftover yarn going to the Food Shelf, pillowcases to the Salvation Army, and corduroy pants to the Seventh Day Adventists, Holmstrom recounted.
"We know who in the community is looking for things. This is keeping things out of the dumpster. It is recycling, which is taking care of God's earth," Holmstrom said.
The quilting project at First Lutheran was expanded a few years ago to include making special quilts for ninth-grade confirmands in the parish; the quilts are distributed when youths are confirmed on Reformation Day. A special label attached to the confirmand quilts recalls the late Linnea Mannausau, one of the most faithful quilters from the beginning of the program.
Fellowship of the volunteers has been an important part of the cottage quilt industry at participating parishes. At First Lutheran, volunteers may come and go during the day, but coffee breaks bring them together around a table for conversation. Art Holmstrom delivers noon meals from the senior center for some; others bring lunches from home. Recently, volunteers were treated with a blueberry pancake luncheon.
After lunch, volunteers busy at work grow quiet, Holmstrom said.
Because most of the quilts are distributed without labels or requirements other than for the recipients to be in need, just how individual quilts are used is not known to the volunteers.
"We are to bring justice to the world," Holmstrom said, "so this is it." She did tell one story that has found its way back to Borderland, of a woman who received a quilt, saying it was the most beautiful thing she had every had.
"She cut it in half and gave half to her daughter," Holmstrom said. "It makes you wish she had been given two."
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