By Teri Carnicelli
The church hall was filled with brightly colored, handmade quilts and small blankets, stacked more than 2 feet high on tables spread around the room.
Representatives from the agencies receiving this blanket bounty shared moving, and sometimes heartbreaking, stories about the people who would be the recipients these mini works of art.
The annual gifting of the quilts is the mission of Reap What You Sew, a quilting group affiliated with First Christian Church, located at 6750 N. 7th Ave. There are other chapters of the group around the Valley, most of them based in churches as well, although you don’t have to attend a church to be a part of the group. There is even a group in Show Low that contributes to the cause.
Debby Hovorka, who oversees the group based at First Christian Church, led the annual “harvesting of the quilts” distribution event on Nov. 3. “These are hardworking, caring, loving women, and I think it shows” in the work they produce, she said.
In all 2,913 quilts were created this year, from patriotic-themed blankets for veterans to 20-inch-square “angel wraps” for preemies at local hospitals. There also were a couple dozen tiny, adorable crocheted caps for premature babies and newborns.
“Distribution night is the most touching, the most encouraging,” Hovorka said. “It lights a fire under me to want to do more next year.”
This year’s recipient groups included several medical facilities including Abrazo Central Campus (formerly Phoenix Baptist Hospital), Phoenix Children’s Hospital, Banner Thunderbird NICU, and St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Bonnie Moyer, P.T., one of the developmental coordinators from St. Joe’s, told the assembled group of quilters and recipients that she works with new parents who are often overwhelmed and scared to hold their preemies.
Moyer pointed out the institution setting can also add to the stress as new parents have to let go of their dreams of taking baby home right away to a warm and loving nursery. The angel wraps, Moyer said, give their hospital room a sense of comfort and home.
“They are each unique, and not just a standard hospital blanket that everyone gets. They get to take it home when baby is ready and remember that this was the first blanket their child ever had,” she said.
Another recipient was Helain Day, Volunteer Programs coordinator for Ronald McDonald House Charities, which currently has 79 rooms total in its Phoenix and Mesa campuses. “What this blanket does is it transcends culture and language,” she said. “It means warmth, it means home; it conveys an embrace.”
Other children will receive blankets through Christian Family Care and Black Family and Child Services, founded by CEO Mary Black. Both agencies work with children in the foster care system.
Veterans organizations accepting quilts included Women’s Army Corps, MANA House, US Vets, and Central Arizona Shelter Services, which has 43 beds out of 470 dedicated to homeless veterans. The quilts often have a patriotic theme or colors, which resonate with the recipients. The quilts are specially crafted to honor and recognize their service and sacrifice.
Other recipient agencies included Hope Women’s Center, Esperanza Women’s Center, Arizona Reservation Ministries, and Hospice of the Valley.
“I walked in here and it just knocked the breath out of me,” said Lin Sue Cooney, who earlier this year left her anchor desk at Channel 12 to become director of Community Engagement for HOV. “These are beautiful works of art and love.” Cooney shared stories of former hospice patients who found comfort with the quilts, and whose families, in turn, kept them as a loving remembrance.
HOV’s Gardiner Home in Central Phoenix has been converted into an in-patient hospice home serving primarily those with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. “These quilts do provide comfort and become so very important to someone with dementia because while their mind may fade, their senses, such as touch and smell, often remain strong,” explained Cheryl Thomas, director of Fund Development for Hospice of the Valley. “So a quilt can be a constant comfort.”
Last year, Reap What You Sew donated a total of 405 large and lap-size quilts to HOV. This year HOV received approximately 300 quilts; the total number of quilts donated to HOV alone over the past eight years is approaching 2,000. “It’s a heartwarming, inspirational night and I am always in awe of the incredibly gorgeous quilts we receive,” Thomas said.
Reap What You Sew meets at First Christian Church the first and third Tuesday of each month, at 3 p.m. and 7 p.m. Two meetings are necessary because the room at the church is too small to hold the 100-plus members all at once. The work day is the third Saturday of the month from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m. You do not have to be a member of the church, or of any church, to join the group. For more information, call Debby Hovorka at 623-340-3044.