Special Photos. Healing Hugs Ministry members, from left, Evelyn Finch and Connie Meaker assemble quilts for cancer patients.
By Beth Sexton, Staff Correspondent
A husband's recently sent heartfelt thank-you note offered a glimpse into how a simple quilt can make a big difference in the life of a cancer patient. The man's wife had been feeling down and discouraged as she faced her battle with the disease, and then she received a handmade quilt from the Healing Hugs Quilt Ministry of the First Baptist Church of Covington.
"I wouldn't take a million bucks for getting to see her perk up when she received that pretty quilt," the husband wrote. "It was like a turning point in her decision to get well. That quilt accompanies her each week during her four-and-a-half hour chemo treatment. It really improved her outlook."
"That's the reason we keep doing what we're doing," said Covington native Ardis Young, founder of Healing Hugs Quilt Ministry. "We just want to make a difference."
Young and her sister quilters have given out 231 quilts since the ministry began in February 2010. More than 100 of those have gone to Georgia Cancer Specialists in Conyers, where quilts have brought comfort and hope to many cancer patients.
The quilters span all age groups, come from half a dozen different denominations and travel from throughout Newton County the first Thursday of each month to quilt and fellowship together at the First Baptist Church of Covington.
The quilting begins at 1 p.m. and Young said it sometimes ends around 8 p.m. -- and that's just the time they all quilt together. Other work is done at home where quilters who are dedicated to their craft continue to sew on quilts and prepare sections to bring to the whole group each month.
"It's just a labor of love," Young said. "I started this because we had so many ladies who wanted to get together and quilt and we were looking for a reason to make the most use of the (church) building."
Young, a retired nurse, talked to her pastor and said the church has "embraced" the ministry. She said ladies from her church, along with Methodists, Presbyterians, Catholics, Episcopalians and other denominations get together to make mostly lap quilts, or what some people refer to as sofa quilts.
"Most chemo patients get pretty cold when having treatments," Young said. "Before I started this, I had given quilts to friends and others who needed them ... I was looking for a project that would help a lot of people. I contacted Suzanne Brown (of Georgia Cancer Specialists) and she just loved it."
"Most recently, a GCS patient had one of the beautiful quilts and the accompanying note framed," Brown said. "She presented that to the office as a gift to share with all the staff and patients who come into the facility."
Brown said the quilters "commemorate the meaning of reaching out to those in need in the community," adding that receiving a homemade quilt helps comfort chemotherapy patients as they come to understand their "life-changing news and a new journey."
The Healing Hugs Quilt Ministry has anywhere from 10 to 20 members at its monthly meetings and Young said many quilters would rather stop by and pick up something to work on at home. Some of the ladies just want to do the binding, while others enjoy the stitching. She said they also provide cut-out kits for some of the ladies to complete.
Each quilt might be done in phases by different members and when finished, each quilt is washed and prepared as a gift for a cancer patient.
Young said one 85-year-old quilter recently brought in 11 quilt tops she had completed.
"What a blessing," Young said. "She said this gives her a purpose and something to do. That is so special ... I feel like this is a talent that God gave me and I'm wrong not to use it for other people. That's the way so many of our other ladies feel, too.
"My father died of prostate cancer and I've had so many, many close friends who have died of cancer. Before my dad passed away, he said don't waste your talents. He loved my quilts too."
Members of the Healing Hugs Quilt Ministry have a good time when they get together, Young said. The work sessions have turned into a "fellowship time for all of us and we love getting together and laughing and seeing new ideas. We have a little show and tell too."
Once a quilt is ready for delivery, members pray over it and a note is penned to each quilt that includes a verse of Scripture and an uplifting message from Healing Hugs telling how the quilt is "an extension of Christ's love" to its recipient.
All of the fabric used for the quilts for cancer patients come from donations, Young said. Sweet Home Quilt Co. in Conyers has been "a blessing," she added, saying the company has donated a lot of fabric.
"Sometimes people come in and say, 'My wife died and I don't know what to do with her fabric.' Some people have given money through the church so we can buy batting and supplies like that," Young said. "We take good quality quilting fabric, not old clothes because we want to make this as nice as we can for people. We've gotten hundreds of thank-you notes."
Young retired as a nurse in 1998 and like many of the women in Healing Hugs, she has been quilting for years giving quilts to her entire family and a host of friends.
As a young girl, Young grew up watching her paternal grandmother sew and when she grew up, she took a "couple of classes and just went wild," she said.
She's made quilts for her entire family, saying her husband Don and their two grown children and granddaughter all love quilts, but it was when she started making quilts for friends who were sick that her joy for quilting turned into a ministry.
"I had a lot of friends my age who developed cancer and I wanted them to know they were loved, too," Young said.
In addition to the many quilts Healing Hugs members make for area cancer patients, the group also makes a number of quilts for premature babies delivered at Newton Medical Center.
Anyone who would like to donate quilting fabric to the Healing Hugs ministry is asked to call Young at 770-786-4107. Those who would like to make a monetary donation may do so by making checks payable to Healing Hugs Quilt Ministry, First Baptist Church, 1139 Usher St., Covington, GA 30014.