A quilt or blanket, created and given selflessly, is more than a gift of warmth; it’s a gift of love. And every November for the past 13 years, members from First Presbyterian Church of White Bear Lake have been gifting love—one thread, one stitch and one hand-tied fringe at a time. “Back in the day, the ladies always had a group called Presbyterian Women, and they did retreats and they were in charge of the rummage sale,” parishioner and blanket coordinator Carla Nielsen says. “They kept on saying we should do something local. And they all sewed. And they said, ‘We should make quilts.’ And I said, ‘I’m a good organizer. I’m not particularly creative at sewing, but I can be the ringleader.’”
So starting in November 2004, the quilters group of First Presbyterian Church was formed. “I set a date, and that was back in the day when you had to call everybody. I remember sitting with a list of 40 names on it,” Nielsen says. “A lot of them sat at home and made quilts ahead of time. And they showed up with their sewing machines and patterns and their fabric cutters; we’ve been doing it ever since.” (The group has recently added the less time-intensive method of hand-tying fleece blankets.)
The quilters usually meet for their big bash the Saturday before Thanksgiving. And the public pitches in. “We put two long tables together, and then pass out the scissors and the fabric, and everyone cuts and ties and visits. It’s a nice fellowship day, too,” Nielsen explains. They serve coffee and treats in the morning, and then a big lunch in the afternoon. “Last year, we had between 50 and 60 people in and out. Not everybody stays all day,” she says.
Nielsen says making the quilts goes pretty fast because of all the people anxious to help. “[This year] we used up all the fleece; there were some really fun fabrics brought in," she says. “We had our usual crew of volunteers from the community; there are some really lovely and talented ladies that help every year. There were also some new helpers who saw one of our ads in the local paper; hopefully they felt welcome and will join in again next year."
The group donates the quilts to different organizations, including the Marie Sandvik Center in Minneapolis and Solid Ground in White Bear Lake. And it truly does make a difference. Two years ago, when Nielsen brought more than 60 quilts and fleece blankets to the Marie Sandvik Center, she got a heartbreaking piece of information from the woman who answered their knock. “She said, ‘Oh, our kids Christmas party is on Saturday and we didn’t have a thing for them for the Christmas party until you drove up,’” Nielsen says.
The time spent stays with people and makes them want to come back again. “I love having everyone come to church and work on the same project; just getting everyone involved with something for people who don’t have as much as we do,” Nielsen says. “You’re spending four hours doing something for somebody else.”
By the Numbers
- Number of blankets made this year: 73
- Number of attendees: 40
- Location: First Presbyterian Church of White Bear Lake, 4821 Bloom Ave., White Bear Lake
- How you can still help: Monetary donations, as well as of polar fleece and cotton duck, a water resistant fabric used to make blankets for people who spend their days and nights on the street, are always greatly appreciated.