Editor’s note: Quilts from Caring Hands changed its phone number from what had originally been reported in this story and the update appears below.
In a darkened bedroom in Albany, a baby girl born to a drug-addicted mother and experiencing withdrawal lies in her crib. Over in Philomath, a preteen feels the weight of the world coming down after going through the emotional ordeal of moving in with a foster family. And up in Salem, a visually-impaired 7-year-old boy tries to make sense of a difficult challenge that to an outsider would seem like a simple task.
Those examples are fictional but they represent the type of situations that serve as motivation for members of the Quilts from Caring Hands organization. A group that’s nearly 60 strong, they all share a love of creating beautiful quilts that will hopefully bring comfort to at-risk children.
“There are children who are in situations not of their own making and we just feel like they need to know that there’s someone else out there that cares for them,” said June Nielsen, Quilts from Caring Hands founder. “Give them a fabric hug so to speak.”
The group meets on Wednesday mornings beginning at 9 a.m. each week at the Philomath Scout Lodge. During a recent gathering this summer, the feel in the workroom easily gives one a sense of the passion that they exude for the task at hand.
“I’ve had pretty good luck, a pretty blessed life,” Nielsen said. “I’ve not experienced a lot of things that other women and children may have, so it’s just my way of giving back. And I think I can say that about every woman who’s in the group.”
Quilts from Caring Hands, which has nonprofit organization status, distributes quilts at no charge to several agencies that serve at-risk children in Benton, Linn and Marion counties. Among the recipients of their comfy contributions are children up to age 18 who are homeless, in foster care, visually impaired, abused or suffering from mental health issues.
The group’s activities revolve around making crib and twin-size quilts, although they also make pillowcases for one organization at Christmas time.
“We’ve made over 800 over the last four years,” said Carol Cochran, Quilts from Caring Hands president. “We give out quilts to 17 agencies four times a year and to seven others on an as-needed basis.”
The Quilts for Caring Hands group dates back to September 1990 after Nielsen read an article about an organization in San Francisco that had been making quilts and giving them to pediatric AIDS patients. The wheels started turning in Nielsen’s head and she decided to give the California group a call to see if she could get some pointers on establishing a similar organization in Oregon.
“I had made quilts and given to charity before,” Nielsen said. “And I like to quilt, so it seemed like a good mix. They sent me all kinds of advice.”
Among the suggestions for Nielsen was to start making phone calls to agencies in the region to see if they would want quilts.
“The usual response was ‘yes’ and ‘can I get them in a month — how many can I have?’” Nielsen recalled. “Fortunately, AIDS was not a problem in Oregon but I found children at risk — children who are emotionally or physically abused, foster children … that’s what we focused on.”
The group started with four core quilters.
“By the end of that first year, we had 15 members and then it has just grown by word of mouth,” Nielsen said. “The women who come are so unselfish and giving and caring. We couldn’t exist if they weren’t willing to go the extra mile.”
Quilts From Caring Hands is run entirely by volunteers with no membership dues. At its peak, the group had upwards of 70 active members with those numbers now down a bit as part of the pandemic’s after-effects.
One of the volunteers, Trish House, has a quilting machine at home that she uses to assemble the twin-size quilts. The process, she said, could be computerized but she wants her touch on every quilt she puts together.
“I’ve had so many people say, ‘oh, we wouldn’t be able to give away quilts if it wasn’t for you’ and what I do in my opinion is no more important than anyone else in this group,” House said. “I love being part of this group … I love what we do.”
Years ago, House volunteered as a foster parent and at one time, had four preteens of her own and six teenage girls sent her way from the state.
Said House, “Knowing what these (quilts) mean to those kids that are in need — I love what I do.”
Last year, Quilts from Caring Hands received a $10,400 donation from The Power of 100 People Who Care group.
“That meant a whole lot because we had to cash in our reserve CD (certificate of deposit) because it costs us about $15,000 a year,” Cochran said. “We pay for rent, we pay for batting — batting’s a big expense — we pay for sewing supplies that we need that the group doesn’t have. A lot of our material isn’t donated anymore.”
Cochran pointed out that a rumor has circulated that the organization no longer accepts donations of materials but that’s not the case. Quilts from Caring Hands prefers to use 100% cotton but other types of fabrics that are donated can be sold through a partner organization to bring in some cash. In addition, certain fabrics can be used in the tactile quilts.
Grants and donations represent the organization’s income. Recent grants have come in from the Siletz Tribal Contribution Fund ($4,500), Benton Community Foundation ($2,500), Corvallis Kiwanis Foundation ($750), OSU Folk Club Thrift Shop ($2,500) and Consumer Power Charitable Trust ($1,000).
The organization as of mid-summer had 59 active members, nine at-home members and 11 out-of-town members, Cochran said.
For those who would like to get involved with Quilts from Caring Hands, the group meets at 9 a.m. Wednesdays at the Philomath Scout Lodge. See the organization’s website for information, send an email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 485-272-8211.
To donate monetarily (contributions are tax deductible) or give materials, or to buy a quilt to help the group raise money, see this page on the Quilts from Caring Hands website. Quilts can also be purchased as Shonnard’s.