Karen and Mary quilt for homeless women and veterans

custom quilts tell homeless: "hold on. you can do it."

Mary Gardener and Karen Buck have been sewing their hearts out lately. This charitable pair is creating customized quilts—eagle-motifed quilts for our homeless veterans, lap blankets for women at our Hope House shelter, and crib-sized blankets for babies in young, struggling families.

While each woman has decades of quilting experience, they have been working in tandem for about five years. Each woman works on the quilts independently at home—they both cut and piece but Karen does the machine quilting and Mary does all the binding and finishing. They also meet as part of a quilting group in Mary’s home every Thursday. A larger quilt can take up to ten hours of labor.

The project is a vitalizing force for 92-year-old Mary. She attributes some of her vigor to charity work.

“It keeps you alive, interested, doing something. I’ve had a metal heart valve and a pacemaker for a long time. It reminds me that every day counts.” 

Mary has made her days count by volunteering at many local nonprofits over the years. And since she started quilting in the early 80s, Mary has lovingly made and given away more than 500 quilts.

With their current project, the pair had the idea to add a blank label to each quilt so that the recipient can mark it with their name.

“We don’t want these to belong to a bed,” says Karen. “They should be given to people. We want them to pick what they like and keep it. For kids who don’t have much it will be their blanky. For a young mom just scraping by, suddenly their baby will have a quilt of its own. It’s a small thing for us but it can make a huge impact”

“[Volunteers of America’s] programs are a comfort to people, a positive place,” adds Mary. “We just want to make sure that when they get out they have something they can hold onto—a physical reminder of that positive time so that when things are tough and they wonder what they should do it reminds them ‘Hold tight. You can do it.’”

“It feels wonderful to be able to give someone the tiniest bit of something to hang onto that’s their own,” says Karen.