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Helen Preusser of St. John the Baptist Parish in Petersburg, left, Kathy Buelt of St. Bonaventure Parish in Raeville, and Pauline Pelster, also a member of St. John the Baptist, work on quilts for the needy Oct. 17 in Raeville. Photo courtesy of Lynell Morgan of The Elgin Review.

Quilters join forces to help those in need

Bordered by brown fields of beans and corn awaiting harvest and in the shadows of the regal St. Bonaventure Church in Raeville, the parish hall was a hive of activity.

Stepping through the doors that Oct. 17 morning, visitors would have been greeted with the quick-paced hum of four sewing machines and stations for pressing, preparing and tying quilts, and the purposeful chatter and movement of workers from one table to another to another.

These were women on a mission – a total of 20 women over two days – and that mission was to provide for those who might otherwise go without the warmth of a blanket in the cold of winter.

"It’s clothing and helping the needy. I figure it’s one of the works of mercy," said Kathy Buelt, a member of St. Bonaventure Parish.

Buelt and about seven other women get together once a week to make quilts for raffles and other events, with profits going to the parish. Similar groups of about the same size do the same thing for their parishes at nearby St. John the Baptist Church in Petersburg and St. Boniface Church in Elgin.

 

Quilts for the homeless

But for two days in the fall and two days each spring, members of those groups have begun to gather in one parish hall or another to make dozens of quilts – not to sell, but to give away to homeless shelters or shelters for victims of sexual assault or domestic abuse in Norfolk, York, Columbus, Lincoln and Omaha.

It started on something of a whim, Buelt said, when in 2013 an acquaintance learned she worked on quilts and offered tops that could be added to the batting and backing to make three quilts. Rather than sell the quilts, the group gave them to the Rescue Mission homeless shelter in Norfolk.

The next year, the group pieced together a dozen quilts for Bright Horizons domestic violence and sexual assault shelter, also in Norfolk.

Word spread about the special projects. In 2015 the quilting group from St. John the Baptist joined the effort, and last year members of the group in Elgin pitched in. Once again this year, members of all three groups joined forces, and between spring and fall sessions created and gave away more than 120 blankets.

"It’s kind of mushrooming into something fabulous," Buelt said. "I feel like we’re just getting started."

Relying on donations of fabric and other materials from group members, thrift stores and other businesses, the group recently received a boost from a quilter’s granddaughter who works for a large fabric company in New York. She arranged to get the company’s fabric samples shipped to the quilters instead of dumped in a landfill, Buelt said.

 

All volunteers welcome

While groups from Catholic parishes have been at the core of the projects, the volunteers welcome people of all faiths to their efforts. And the need is great and can be found anywhere, Buelt said. Homelessness, for example, is not just a "big city problem," she said.

Buelt, 65 and recently retired, said she has more time now to help with quilting. Several others in the St. Bonaventure group are in their 70s or 80s, including parishioners Rita Schrage, Mary Ann Fangman, Ann Beckman and Mary Margaret Starman.

The women said they would like to see younger generations take up the art. And they are open to donating to new places. Meanwhile, they continue to perfect their craft and find easier, more efficient ways to work together, Buelt said.

"I love the companionship of the entire group, working together for a worthwhile cause," she said. "It makes you feel good that you’ve done something for someone."

 

The Elgin Review Co-Publisher and Co-Editor Lynell Morgan contributed to this report.

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