When Sara Atkin's sympathy and concern for victims of last summer's flooding in the Midwestern United States tore at her heart strings, she had no way of knowing her efforts would explode into a gigantic compassionate venture that would involve hundreds of southern Utahns.
The result? More than 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 that left so many people homeless because of the floods, I wondered why someone didn't do something about it," she said. Then she thought "Why wait? You do it!"
The idea she began with was "one woman, one quilt." Although she is not a Latter-day Saint, she realized she lived in an area where quilting once was almost synonymous with Relief Society. She decided, however, that it would be more expedient to tie quilts than to make them by the traditional stitching method. She placed a notice in a southern Utah newspaper suggesting other people join the cause.
"I was completely astonished by the response," Mrs. 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.
She began receiving as many as 20 calls a day from people in Garfield, Kane, Iron and Washington counties who wanted to participate. Many of those who volunteered were LDS Church members. For example, in six weeks, members in seven wards in the St. George Utah Dixie Downs Stake completed 160 quilts, plus several crib blankets and baby quilts.
While the Relief Society headed up the stake's efforts, others became involved, according to stake Relief Society Pres. Carol Parry. "High priests and elders set frames up and did whatever they could. Most wards had the quilt tops pieced by individuals in their homes before they brought them to the meetinghouses to be tied. Some brought covered dishes and stayed a full day.
"We had some people who put up quilt frames in their homes. Quite a few of our members live in mobile homes that don't have enough room to put up frames, so they set them up under car ports.
"It was a thrill for us to work on this project," she continued. "When leaders in one of the wards brought their quilts to me they said, `Even if these quilts should never reach their destination, there has been enough good happen in our ward that all this effort would have been worth it.' Every presidency bore testimony of how the project had helped bring their wards together. There was so much fellowshipping, so much love and caring extended not only to those who were to receive the quilts but also among those who worked on them."
About 150 miles northeast of St. George, members of the Tropic Ward, Escalante Utah Stake, became involved in the quilt project after Faye Pollock saw Mrs. Atkin's ad.
She talked with ward Relief Society Pres. Sandrea Franciso. About 30 Relief Society members in Tropic, a predominately LDS town of about 400 people located just a few miles from Bryce Canyon National Park, produced 10 quilts. "We put up quilt frames at the Church meetinghouse," Sister Pollock related. "Several ladies cut out the quilt blocks, some helped piece them, and others took them home to bind them after they had been tied.
"I really like seeing Church members get involved in a community project like this," Sister Pollock said. "I looked at the quilts and thought of those people who might be in desperate need. It gave me a good feeling to know they would be receiving new quilts - good quilts - to help keep them warm."
Faye Hawks of the St. George 28th Ward, St. George Utah West Stake, was the driving force behind the quilts that were made in Winchester Hills, about eight miles north of St. George. She told Mrs. Atkin she would get 100 quilts from her community.
"We made 131," Sister Hawks said. "The Relief Society presidency helped, but most of my neighbors who helped are not LDS. It was a wonderful experience working with the women in the community."
Sister Hawks has quilted most of her life, but many of her neighbors had never quilted. She taught them how to sew blocks and tie quilts. Most of the quilts were tied in two homes.
"When we finished, we took them to the ward meetinghouse and put them up all around the walls. It was fabulous to see them."
Another Church member, Martha Canfield, 90, contributed to the project in a unique way. "She wanted to help," Mrs. Atkin said of Sister Canfield. "She opened a closet door. The closet was filled with quilt tops. There were also stacks of them in the living room. She must have spent most of her time making them. She kept giving me more and more and more."
In Orderville, Utah, Nellie Frost provided material, coming up with about 100 quilts. She is a member of the Orderville 2nd Ward, Kanab Utah Stake.
Mrs. Atkin had set a goal to make 1,000 quilts. "When I started, someone said I would be fortunate to get 100 quilts done, that I'd never get 1,000. I figured 100 would be better than none. I've lived in St. George 30 years and feel strongly about getting involved in the community. The response was overwhelming. A great deal of it goes back to the Relief Society. They've got such a network and a real work habit.
"Volunteers came for everywhere. 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."
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.
"I met a woman in a store and told her about the project," Mrs. Atkin said. "She volunteered her efforts and then called the next day and said she had gotten volunteers from the Baptist Church to make 25 quilts. Just about all the churches in St. George got involved. The Catholic Church donated 23 boxes of bed linens. They wanted to help, but they didn't have many who who could work on quilts. They did what they could."
School children volunteered. Girls at one school made eight quilts, and students at a school for troubled youth made eight afghans. At another school, students raised money to pay for materials for 30 quilts at $7.50 each, and the special education class made a quilt.
And so the movement expanded, even reaching beyond those who made the quilts. Mrs. Atkin said businesses have contributed in different ways, and the project was endorsed by the Kiwanis Club.
"It's hard to comprehend what all the ramifications are going to be on a project like this," she said. "Had it not been for the volunteers and for the businesses that contributed, we couldn't have done this."
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.
Mrs. 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.
A representative of the Salvation Army in Des Moines, Iowa, where the quilts have been sent for distribution from a warehouse, said: "It is wonderful to see that voluntarism is still alive and well in America. The quilts sent from Utah are greatly appreciated. They have gone over pretty well, especially in the small towns."
One recipient wrote a letter of thanks to Mrs. Atkin, saying the quilts had brought tears and smiles.