Tuesday, Jul 26, 2016
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Quilts aim to console broken hearts

Volunteer group makes, gives out gifts to suffering

  • quilt-emerson

    Juanita Emerson, of Perrysburg, creating a "gracious gift box" in front of a quilt she donated to the shop.

    <The Blade/Jetta Fraser
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  • kimpel-quilt

    Louise Kimpel, of Perrysburg, helps first-time sewing machine user Allie Bugaj, 11, of west Toledo as she sews her squares together.

    <The Blade/Jetta Fraser
    Buy This Image

quilt-emerson

Juanita Emerson, of Perrysburg, creating a "gracious gift box" in front of a quilt she donated to the shop.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
Enlarge | Buy This Image

Thomas Belkofer lived with intensity.

He spontaneously bought a red convertible while living in Italy.

In Afghanistan, he set his alarm for 4 a.m. so he'd be awake to set up his computer to watch Ohio State play back in the United States.

"He was a lover of life … " said his mother, Sharon, laughing. "He had the biggest grin with dimples in his cheeks. His eyes would sparkle."

When he died two years ago, his death felt as if it were a movie, like it wasn't real, his family said.

His parents even argued with the Army lieutenant colonel who brought them the news in May, 2010. No, this can't be happening, they said.

Only it was.

PHOTO GALLERY: Blue Skies Quilting and Gifts

Lieuentant Colonel Belkofer, 44, a 1983 Rossford High graduate, was killed in Kabul, Afghanistan, when enemy forces attacked his Army convoy. The married father of two was to be in the country for only about a week to get information. He was scheduled to return five months later for deployment.

He hadn't even told his parents he was going to Afghanistan.

kimpel-quilt

Louise Kimpel, of Perrysburg, helps first-time sewing machine user Allie Bugaj, 11, of west Toledo as she sews her squares together.

The Blade/Jetta Fraser
Enlarge | Buy This Image

What's provided the family comfort over the years has been a gift from strangers -- a red, white, and blue quilt, now draped on the love seat in their living room.

For two years, a Perrysburg nonprofit group has made quilts for people who are suffering.

The quilts are given to the homeless, a young girl who lost family members in the Lake Township tornado, and to those, like Mrs. Belkofer, grieving the loss of a child.

The organization, Blue Skies Quilting and Gifts, sells fabric and teaches classes to cover the utilities and rent at its 420 Louisiana Ave. storefront.

Theresa Howard is the shop's unlikely owner.

When she was growing up, she vowed never to touch a needle and thread after her eighth-grade home economics class.

But as an adult, Mrs. Howard wanted to build friendships. Why not try something new? Why not quilting?

Her quilting group sprang up in October, 2008.

The project grew.

Using $20,000 in inheritance money, she started Blue Skies, a small store filled with fabrics of tropical scenes, polka dots, and bright colors.

Usually at least once a day, someone joins Mrs. Howard in the shop to work on the quilts to give to people in need.

"The comfort of a quilt is someone made this for me," said volunteer Diana Wittman, a retired elementary school teacher who lives in Perrysburg. "Somebody really cared about me."

A single quilt can take about a month to finish.

"I just have the perspective of living one day at a time," Mrs. Howard said. "I don't have a quota. I don't have a deadline."

Mrs. Belkofer can't hide the emotions in her voice as she talks about her quilt.

"There was so much caring and sincerity," said Mrs. Belkofer, 69, a retired registered nurse who lives with her husband, Donald Belkofer, Jr. "When people who don't even know you take the time to express their feeling and do something extra special that's lasting -- like a memory quilt -- it touches you."

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