No one seems to recall exactly how long the women at two local Lutheran churches have been gathering together on a weekly basis to make quilts in support of world mission relief. At first estimate, Joyce Gohlke of Immanuel Lutheran in Alpena figured it's been about 20-some years, but after talking it over with another long-time participant, the number of years was amended to more like 50.
Over at Grace Lutheran, also in Alpena, participants peg their involvement in the quilt mission project at around 40 years. They know of three generations of women who have helped out, including a daughter and granddaughter of one of their church's original participants.
What all do seem to agree on is that the project has been embraced by many over the years and that is has helped literally hundreds of thousands of needy people in countries all over the world.
News Photo by Diane Speer
At Grace Lutheran Church in Alpena these four volunteers work on quilts that eventually will be sent to countries in need all over the world. Shown from left are Dorothy Hansen, Patti Tucker, Betty Dulebohn and Verna Furze. Women at the church have been gathering to work on the global missions project for an estimated 40 years.
"Hundreds of thousands of these quilts go out each year from little churches in small towns like Alpena all over the United States," said Chris Christopherson, who volunteers at Grace Lutheran.
Grace Lutheran completes and ships between 125 to 150 quilts each year for the mission project, known as Lutheran World Relief. Immanuel Lutheran, which serves as the collection point for both churches, makes around 200 quilts annually.
From Alpena, the quilts are trucked to warehouses in either Grand Rapids or Detroit and then shipped by train to harbors on the East or West coasts, where they are loaded onto ships bound for various countries abroad.
The number of Lutheran World Relief quilts as well as health kits, layettes, sewing kits and school kits distributed around the world each year is staggering. In 2010, 62,250 quilts went to Thailand, 42,380 to Sierra Leone, 34,950 to Tanzania, 33,600 to India and 24,000 to Nigeria, as well as lesser amounts to many other countries.
"The demand is great around the world," said Dorothy Hansen of Grace Lutheran, who serves as co-coordinator for her church along with Caroline Weise. "They are used on the ground for quilts, for protection from the sun and cold, for room dividers and even for burial wraps."
About 10 women gather every Tuesday in Immanuel Lutheran's fellowship hall from 8:30 a.m. to noon to work on quilts. Another group meets on Thursdays from 8 to 11 a.m. to tie off the quilts. All the material used in the quilts is donated.
"It comes in like you would not believe," said Gohkle. "It's just by word of mouth, but batches of material come, and then we decide how we can use it."
No specific quilt pattern is used, though some of the volunteers are tasked with cutting and laying out fabric into a design and others then take on the responsibility of sewing the quilts pieces together.
Not only do the women at Immanuel Lutheran create quilts for Lutheran World Relief, but they also make quilts for local causes, including Shelter, Inc., the Sunrise Mission and auctions that benefit area non-profits.
A more recent outgrowth of the quilt project is that the women now also make quilts from jean fabric for each of Immanuel's graduating high school seniors. The students get to pick which quilt they would like, said Gohlke, and this past spring, 16 graduates accepted this special gift.
Grace Lutheran also gives away a number of their quilts to local causes such as Habitat for Humanity. Members there also benefit from the generosity of many people who donate fabric for the project.
In the early days of the project, pieces of clothing were donated that the volunteers would then take apart and make into quilting blocks.
"They turned dresses and leisure suits into quilts," said Christopherson. "That was the purpose - to give new life to something used."
The women at Grace Lutheran meet every Tuesday from 9 to11 a.m. They take the summer off and only meet from September through Memorial Day. More than a dozen participants usually turn out to enjoy the camaraderie and chance to sew together as well as the satisfaction of knowing they are doing something to help others in less fortunate circumstances all over the world.