When Sarah Atkin's sympathy and concern for victims of spring floods in the Midwest tore at her heart strings, little did she dream her efforts would explode into a gigantic compassionate venture that would involve hundreds of southern Utahns.

The result? Nearly 1,000 quilts, comforters and afghans that will help Midwesterners sleep a little warmer because men, women and children in southern Utah combined their talents with concern for others."After watching the destruction and so many people left homeless because of the floods, I wondered why someone didn't do something about it," Atkin recalled. Then she thought "Why wait? You do it!"

She noted, "I'm not a dyed-in-the-wool do-thing person and my idea to begin with was `one woman, one quilt.' " Then she decided to place a notice in a small southern Utah advertising paper, suggesting other people join the cause.

"I was completely astonished by the response," Atkin said.

"Quilting bees" and money-raising projects to pay for materials began to spring up in homes, churches, schools and even in a shopping mall.

When the project started to gain recognition, Atkin contacted a nephew, Norman Atkin, a printer in Phoenix. He designed fliers for distribution and cards to be sent with each quilt, stating "Please accept this gift of our friendship. May it provide you with warmth and comfort. Made with love by your friends in southern Utah."

Atkin said she began receiving as many as 20 calls a day from people in Garfield, Kane, Iron and Washington counties who wanted to participate. A goal of 1,000 quilts was set and has nearly been reached, with 960 having been completed and still more to come.

"We even set up some quilting frames in the Red Cliffs Mall," Atkin said. "People would come by, sit down for a few minutes or several hours to help. One blind woman couldn't see to quilt but stayed there to help roll the frames when needed because she wanted to be a part of it."

During evenings, as many as 40 women would gather in small towns to quilt. Men became involved, too, and, in one case, five couples got together, made a quilt and then had a potluck dinner, reporting it was one of their most enjoyable experiences.

One woman engaged 10 young girls to join in the effort. "Five stood by the quilt pushing needles down through the quilt while, underneath, five more pushed them back up through for the next stitch," Atkin said.

At Winchester Hills north of St. George, Faye Hawks pledged 100 quilts, contacted women of the community, and they produced 125. Another 100 came from Hurricane and 125 from the Dixie Downs Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, where officials asked each ward to produce 15 quilts.

When Martha Canfield of St. George heard about the project, she called Atkin, wanting to help. "She opened a closet door and it was filled with quilt tops!" Atkin said. "There were also stacks of them in the living room. She is 90 years old, must have spent most of her time making them and kept giving me more and more and more."

In Orderville, Kane County, Nellie Fox provided material, coming up with about 100 quilts. Faye Pollock saw Atkin's ad in the small town of Tropic in Garfield County, called the Relief Society president of the LDS ward, and 35 women quickly produced 10 quilts.

Girls at the Mill Creek School in Washington made eight. The same number of afghans were produced at the Cross Creek Ranch, a school for troubled youths.

One group of women, all more than 90 years of age, contributed several quilts.

At the Sixth Grade Center School in St. George, Dixie Andrus successfully encouraged students to raise money to pay for materials for 30 quilts at $7.50 each, and the special education class made a quilt.

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And so the movement expanded, even reaching beyond those who made the quilts. Atkin said businesses have contributed in different ways, and the project was endorsed by the Kiwanis Club.

The St. George branch of Artex International, a manufacturer of fine linens, donated quilt materials. MZH Contracting, which manufactures sleeping bags, volunteered to package each quilt.

Parke-Cox Trucking offered to deliver them to Des Moines, Iowa, for distribution to flood victims.

Atkin said the project is winding down now, but she hopes the compassion in Southern Utah may inspire other people to provide help for those struck by future catastrophes.

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