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Quilters to take more handmade aid to Missouri

Tornado victims still in need

Rita-Thomas-quilt

Rita Thomas, a Sylvania resident and quilter who will be making the trip to Joplin this month, stitches quilt pieces together at the group's workshop.

the blade/lisa bernheim
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A Sylvania Township volunteer group that provides quilts to the stricken plans to return to Joplin, Mo., this month to assist tornado victims.

Members of Quilts of Compassion are busy in their Centennial Road workshop stitching together what they hope will be 300 quilts they can present to residents of Joplin, battered May 22 by a deadly tornado that cut a swath of destruction 28 miles long and a mile wide. The storm killed 134 people and injured several hundred.

The trip to Joplin won't be a first for the group. Quilts of Compassion members, including Janice Grimes, the executive director and founder, were there from June 3 to 5 distributing more than 200 prayer quilts to patients at Freeman Medical Center there.

Since then, the city has been recovering, but tornado victims continue to need help, she said.

"The city's other hospital took a direct hit from the tornado and will be torn down," Ms. Grimes explained. "Freeman is at 120 percent capacity. We have made a one-year commitment to help them and want to make trips every two months to support them."

Lisa Sheets, who made the June trip, said her experiences in Joplin left a lasting impression.

"It was one of the most touching things I've ever seen. People were in shock. All you had to say is 'How are you doing?' and the stories just poured out," she said.

Quilts of Compassion made a difference in Joplin, according to Todd Decker, pastoral care director of the Freeman Health System, of which the medical center is a part.

He survived the tornado himself, and described the weeks after it hit as "kind of a blur." But he said the Quilts of Compassion members inspired confidence from the start.

"I instantly knew what kind of people they were and started getting positive feedback about them," he said. "One of my chaplains said we should make them chaplains because they were doing such great work with the patients. A lot of groups came here after the tornado, and not all of them I could trust.

"These people I could trust. In addition to visiting patients and giving quilts, they did a great job of caring for folks."

Mr. Decker said coming from outside Joplin gave the quilt makers a valuable perspective.

"They listened to a lot of stories. The stories started to wear us down pretty quickly, and having someone come in from outside gave us some fresh ears," he said.

Ms. Grimes started Quilts of Compassion in 1999, after being in a serious car accident that put her in a Grand Rapids, Mich., hospital for a year.

"A chaplain gave me a quilt, and it had a profound effect on my recovery," she recalled.

She had never sewed, but she learned to do so by taking instruction from the store where she bought a sewing machine. Today she oversees a workshop full of sewing machines operated by nearly 200 volunteer quilters.

"We're 100 percent volunteer. I can't say enough about our volunteers. They're 10 years old to 92," she said. "Nobody is paid. All donations go to the quilting ministry. We completely rely on support."

The quilts are made in different sizes for different uses. Some are lined with fleece for additional warmth, and some are lap quilts that fit over a wheelchair.

Rita Thomas, a Sylvania resident and quilter who will be making the trip this month, said she just wants to offer help in Joplin.

"We'll be there wherever we're needed. You take one path and end up in a place you never anticipated," she said.

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