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Quilting group making big impact

There seems to be no end in sight to the amount of dedication, hard work and creativity shown by the Rice Area Mission Quilters during their Thursday afternoon work sessions. Nearly a dozen group members crowded into the “quilter’s room” at Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church in Rice on a sunny August afternoon. Their mission: assemble, tie and pin quilts. Members of the group point to Ardelle Amundson as their “fearless leader.” She said that they have been meeting for about 10 years, adding that they meet two Thursday afternoons/evenings each month. Anyone in the community is welcome to come, and they can come and go according to their schedule. Amundson said that when they were organizing in May 2002, they prayed for a sewing machine for their group. They wanted a machine with straight and zig-zag stitches plus a top pressure control for top stitching and for heavy fabrics. “I came home from work one day and saw a number of free items in a lady’s yard,” she said. “One was a Kenmore machine.” It had all of the features they wanted, and, it had never been used. And so, the group got to work! In 2003, the group added a second quilting location at Good Shepherd Apartments in Sauk Rapids, allowing interested residents there to be involved in quilt making. Amundson and her husband, Jim, bring quilts there four days a month. Amundson said the residents do the tying and pinning, and they complete an average of 70 quilts a month. Amundson said that she spends  “40 hours a week easily” on what she calls “God’s project.” She and her husband deliver every quilt to locations in cities including Princeton, Pierz, Harding, St. Cloud, Foley, Braham, Osseo and Little Falls. How many quilts do they deliver? Last year, it was 1,816. When asked if they are on track to complete that many this year, Amundson said “yes.” There are some quilting volunteers who don’t show up at the Thursday sessions at Shepherd of the Pines. “But they do behind-the-scenes work or they work at home,” explained Evie Weinand.  Her primary role in the group is to do all of the final sewing after the tying and pinning are complete. She is a professional sewing machine operator who spent 30 years working for Stearns Manufacturing in Sauk Rapids. Her former employer even donated the sewing machine which she uses. Weinand can stitch a quilt together in 10 to 15 minutes. Weinand does her sewing in a corner of the quilter’s storage area across the hall from where the others work tying and pinning.  The storage area has tables and shelves  stacked to the ceiling with  completed quilts of all sizes—for adults, youth and babies.  There are also hundreds of potholders and a display showing scissor holders and shopping bags, which group members make and sell.  Wall plaques with appropriate, cutesy sayings are tacked to the wall:  “Old quilters never die. They just go to pieces.” Outside of the door, a bulletin board is filled with thank you notes and news articles recognizing their work. Volunteers are involved in all aspects of the quilt-making process from picking up donated supplies, cutting blocks, trimming and sewing liners, tying, pinning and top-stitching quilts to delivering the finished product to the many locations. The group has about 14 members. Amundson said they donate the quilts to people at 23 different locations, which includes homeless shelters, food shelves and treatment centers. “We are trying to reach out to rural areas because they have fewer resources, especially since the economy has taken a real dive.”  Some of the locations which receive quilts are: Journey Home, His Givers in Princeton, Morrison County Food Shelf, Foley Food Shelf, Catholic Charities, Harding Place, MESSAGE, Salvation Army, the VA Hospital and St. Cloud Children’s Home. The Mission Quilters group does more than make quilts, however. Carla Hunter makes pillowcase dresses for girls in Haiti. Hunter spends part of the winter in Orange Beach, Ala., and one of her projects was to make 50 dresses using a new or gently used pillowcase, some elastic and bias tape.  The sundresses are comfortable and durable and they don’t need ironing. The girls wear white T-shirts with the dresses. Amundson has relatives who go on yearly mission trips to Haiti to drill wells for fresh water. She explained that when they make the trip they pack the dresses as well as quilts, which they then distribute to orphanages in the country. Cara Freese sews homemade pillowcases from old sheets. She has made 834 pillowcases in the past four years. The Mission Quilters also make potholders, shopping bags and scissor holders, which they sell at church or at area craft fairs. The proceeds go toward the purchase of sheets for the backing of each quilt. Edris Weinand, Evie’s sister, showed off an assortment of potholders they have on hand. “Our congregation is awesome!” she said. Over four fall weekends last year they sold $1,000 in potholders. There are many Sunday mornings when someone from the congregation approaches one of the quilters anxious to purchase a potholder or shopping bag for a gift. Most of their supplies are donated, but they do buy sheets for the quilt backing.  They receive large bags of fabric from St. Cloud Hospital and a local resort. This fabric is washed and used for the quilt liners. They also receive some private donations of fabric or money from church or community members. Thrivent  Financial for Lutherans provides funds to them, and they also receive funds from “Round-up grants” from both East Central Electric and Stearns Electric. “We can be running low on money or on liners and—it just appears. It’s unbelievable,” said Amundson.  “It’s an indicator that God is behind us, and He wants us to continue to reach out and serve.” Nancy Anderson had bags of fabric left over after working with the Campfire USA organization. She sewed quilt tops using the patriotic red, white and blue fabric and then brought them to church where the quilts were completed. These quilts go to veterans at the VA Hospital. “The veterans love them,” she said. Recipients of the quilts may be living in proverty, or they could be homeless. Some may be victims of domestic violence. When asked how they hope each recipient feels when getting their quilt, both Evie and Edris agreed, “Warm and happy and comforted. We want them to appreciate that someone cares for them.” Evie added that she says a prayer over each quilt that she sews.  In January, the group collaborated with Royalton Community Education to offer Mission Quilt Day to the fourth, fifth and sixth-graders at Royalton Elementary School. Amundson said this “hands-on” service project included a short class for students to learn about homelessness. They also learned to tie and pin quilts, and 58 were made that day. The Rice Area Mission Quilters will accept donations of fabric, yarn, thread, blankets, comforters, drapes, towels, polyester batting, sheets and pillowcases and mattress pads. Contributions can be brought to Shepherd of the Pines Lutheran Church. Anyone with questions can also contact Ardelle Amundson at 320-656-5858.

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