Stitching comfort: MCC hosts quilting spree for thousands displaced by disaster or conflict

A few hours of handiwork can provide a world of comfort for thousands of people around the world, and the Mennonite Central Committee hopes Manitobans can spare some time.

Great Winter Warm-Up events take place on Saturday

Allison Zacharias, left, displays one of the comforters that will be sent overseas as part of MCC's relief efforts, while Vurayayi Pugeni holds a photo of Emily, whom he met at a refugee camp in Malawi last year. (Darren Bernhardt/CBC)

A few hours of handiwork can provide a world of comfort for thousands of people around the world, and the Mennonite Central Committee hopes Manitobans can spare some time.

On Jan. 18, the MCC is hosting the Great Winter Warm-Up across North America in an effort to stitch up 6,500 comforters that will be delivered to people in disaster situations who lack basic necessities.

Providing warmth is a main function of the blankets but that is far from the only one. They also offer a tangible message to people that their needs are not forgotten, said Vurayayi Pugeni, MCC's area director for southern Africa.

"People really find the sentiment of value in that human connection. It's very important for someone in need — particularly those people who run away from a conflict situation and are feeling so lonely — to know that somebody cares," he said.

"Someone volunteered to put every stitch on that comforter with love."

Fanus Premilus carries the comforter she received after an earthquake struck in the Haitian community of Bingo in 2018. (Annalee Giesbrecht/MCC)

In 2019, MCC sent more than 53,000 handmade comforters to people who used them as bed covers, room dividers, carpets, curtains, wraps, mattresses and more.

"When I see people making these comforters, I immediately think of the smiles they put on people's faces," Pugeni said. "People around the world appreciate them and are so thankful for them."

While delivering comforters as part of MCC relief efforts last year, Pugeni met a woman named Emily at a refugee camp in Malawi. She and her nine children had fled conflict in Burundi and had nothing but each other.

Her new quilt meant the world to her because it was a symbol of love "and a founding of comfort for her," Pugeni said.

It also served as sense of social support for her children.

She said when the children were very stressed, they ran and clad themselves in that comforter, Pugeni said.

"It is the only source of love, the only source of human connection, the only source that makes them feel that people somewhere, in another part of the world, care when everybody else doesn't."

Various sewing groups around Winnipeg and the continent are gathering as part of Saturday's Great Winter Warm-up, MCC communications co-ordinator Allison Zacharias said.

The biggest one in Winnipeg will be held at the North Kildonan Mennonite Brethren Church, 1315 Gateway Rd., where Zacharias hopes volunteers will complete 300 comforters.

Warren Tyson, left, and Orlando Vasquez knot comforters during the Mennonite World Conference Assembly in 2015. (Adam Sensamaust/MCC)

Many have already been prepared by volunteers over the preceding months but now the three layers — the flannel backing, the quilt batting and the fabric top — must be knotted together with crochet cotton.

No sewing experience or sewing machines are required for comforter tying, Zacharias said, and children are welcome.

Comforter-tying is recommended for children age 10 and older but there will also be activities available in the foyer.

Food, coffee and tea will be served. People are asked to register ahead of time through the MCC website, but no one will be turned away if they haven't done that, Zacharias said.

For those who would rather sew a comforter on their own time and in their own place, the finished blankets can be dropped off at the MCC head office, 134 Plaza Dr., on Jan. 18 between 10 a.m. and 4 p.m.

MCC's website includes a section on comforter specifications and a three-part video series on how to make one.

"Because these are are shipped overseas, over time we have discovered what is the best size and the best material to be able to package and send as many as we can," Zacharias said.

"When they are sent, they are packaged here at our material resources centre, then baled, then put on a truck and taken to our warehouse in Plum Coulee. Then they are put on another truck, taken to a port, and put on a ship, and delivered to our partner organizations around the world."

The name of the event is significant because the blankets not only provide warmth to those who receive them, they warm the hearts of those who make them and those fortunate enough to meet those who get them, said Pugeni.

"It's always nice when you go to meet humanity on its knees and know that behind you is a group of supporters that really care so much about those people."


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