The Village Quilters gifted children at Children’s Hospital in Knoxville and Monroe County Family Resource Center with more 100 quilts as the group participated in the 2019 Kids’ Challenge in June.
“We do the challenge every other year,” Janice Irving, group president, said. “It has different themes and so on. This year, the theme had to do with doing quilts for charity … for children.”
Over the course of three months, the group of 390 members made 63 children’s quilts and 10 baby quilts and received 36 quilts to be donated to other organizations in the community, raising the total amount of quilts made to 109.
Shannon Wheeler, director of the Monroe County Family Resource Center, was left speechless when stacks of freshly handmade quilts were brought to the resource center.
“When Sharron Thompson asked me to meet with them at my office I had no idea what to expect,” Wheeler said in an email correspondence. “This was my first encounter with these incredible women. I was so overwhelmed when they just kept getting quilts out of their cars. I know I thanked them before they left, but I really didn’t see the impact of what they had brought until we started unpacking them. I literally cried while unfolding them. I just kept thinking, ‘This isn’t something used by someone else then after they were through with it wanted to pass it along.’ These quilts were made only for them, brand new, full of love, comfort and pure joy.”
Though the center works to provide quality items for students, it is rare for students to be gifted a brand-new item. Wheeler knew immediately the unused quilts would bring students joy.
“Most of the students that receive services through the family resource center come for school supplies, food and clothing,” she said. “Most of the clothes we provide are used but in good condition. They don’t expect to receive a gift like these beautiful, brightly colored, happy, handmade with love quilts.”
Wheeler knows firsthand the impact of receiving only used items during her childhood.
“I grew up with hand-me-downs and toys used by others first,” she said. “It is very special to receive something that was meant for you and only you, especially something as extraordinary as these quilts. God loves us extravagantly and that’s what these ladies have done for our students. We have prayed over these quilts and the students that will receive them. My friend Sharron (Thompson) said after looking at them, ‘I remember someone giving me a used doll with a missing arm and raggedy hair and thinking to myself, ‘Is this all I’m worth?’ The students that receive these quilts will know without a doubt how much they are worth to some very special ladies out there.”
Sharron Thompson, who operates a ministry that provides hygiene products to students in the area, lost her childhood home to a house fire. Despite the damaged doll’s negative affects on her self-worth, one donated item — a quilt — did help her regain a sense of importance.
“Shannon included my story about receiving a doll as a 5-year-old after my family lost our home to a fire,” Thompson said in an email correspondence. “That really did happen. Along with my receipt of a handmade quilt from an elderly lady in our Coker Creek community. That quilt had beautiful butterflies on it and had never been used by anyone! I know I was special to Mrs. Stewart because she loved me enough to make me such a gorgeous gift! Today that quilt hangs as artwork in my mountain log home and may be the fuel for my somewhat obsessive quilt collection.”
Working together to meet goals of helping others has remained a foundation for the quilting group, even beyond the challenge of timelines.
“We have a two-prong mission statement, and our mission statement is to educate people in quilting and to make quilts for people in need,” Irving said. “So that’s what we do.”
Lori Rorstad, community service representative, said the group donated 38 quilts to local organizations in July and 126 quilts in June. The tally for quilts made throughout the year has reached a peak at 314, and the group plans to continue quilting and donating for the remainder of the year.
“Every month, quilts are delivered to various organizations in the community,” Rorstad said.
Wheeler believes Monroe County students will not only be impacted by the thoughtfulness and care put into each and every quilt sewn, but also by the community’s kindness and desire to help.
“It’s one more way that I can show them how much their community cares about them,” Wheeler said. “Anything we can do to make these students feel like they aren’t alone will help their walk in this world. It proves to them that they matter and they deserve something new and handmade just for them.”