BELLINGHAM, Wash. – In the days that followed the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, teddy bears and other gifts flooded Newtown, Conn. It’s a tragedy that inspired countless acts of kindness from across the country.
But few gifts were more heartfelt and personal than the quilts that recently arrived from Bellingham, Wash.
The idea came to Kelly Beedle just a few days before Christmas.
“She said, ‘How would you like to make 26 quilts?’” recalled Mary Jensen, Beedle’s co-worker.
Her goal was to make one quilt for each family that lost someone in the tragedy.
“When you saw some of these little guys and their beautiful faces, I was sort of like, ‘Oh, dear God, I can’t ask anybody else to do that,’” Beedle thought.
But she found absolutely no shortage of volunteers who agreed to quilt them, sew them together or create embroidered labels.
What made these quilts truly special was that the women did not just piece them together with leftover scraps. They took time to research each victim – their passions and young dreams – and made sure those details were reflected in the quilts.
Victim Chase Kowalski loved NASCAR’s Jimmie Johnson and had just become a Tiger Cub Scout, so quilter Lisa Zender found material that reflected both of those passions.
Ben Wheeler had just performed at a piano recital, so his quilt was filled with musical touches.
‘You’re just wrapped in love because you know so much love went into each one of these quilts,” said Tracey Fisher, a former truck driver who now steers a long-arm sewing machine. She volunteers to stitch together every quilt, including an extra one for Newtown’s first responders.
The final touch came from the town of Lynden, where volunteers made personalized, embroidered labels for each quilt.
“I feel like it’s God’s gift to me to be able to make something for someone that brings them comfort,” said volunteer Thelma Wilson.
During the weeks they were made, the quilts soaked up plenty of tears.
“I, too, have lost a child,” Michele Thompson said with tears in her eyes. “So I made this one in honor them.”
Before the quilts were began their journey to Newtown, they received a grand sendoff in LaConner. All 26 quilts were hung up and put on display for the community to see.
“You walk in and there’s the agony, but then there’s such an amazing love,” Thompson said.
Lyn Flagg, a Connecticut native, was overcome with emotion shortly after walking into the quilt-filled room.
“It’s so overwhelming when you see the number of quilts hanging,” she said. “It took my breath away when I saw row after row. It’s just heartbreaking to see.”
There were 20 quilts for the 20 children and six quilts for the six adults. But the women did not stop there.
Michele Thompson made a quilt for Noah Pozner’s sister.
The group also fashioned one for the boyfriend of teacher’s aide Rachel D’Avino.
“He asked her parents if he could marry her,” Jensen said, fighting back tears. “He was going to propose to her on Christmas Day. Didn’t get the chance.”
Even though the women never got to meet the victims, they did get to know them.
Quilter Dorinda Curran learned that 6-year-old Avielle Richman loved pink and that she was dad’s “little hummingbird,” so she filled the quilt with pink cloth and images of hummingbirds.
Then, Curran unexpectedly met Connecticut native Jenny Aguilar, whose brother knows Richman’s family well.
“That makes it so much more meaningful,” Curran said.
She also got to meet a man who is friends with Richman’s grandfather. He took pictures of Curran and the quilt, which he planned to give to the grandfather.
“Give him a hug for me,” Curran said.
“I will,” the man replied.
Most of the quilts have now been shipped to the Newtown Junior Women’s Club, which agreed to distribute the quilts to the families when appropriate.