Blocks of Love


For those who have been displaced from their homes following a domestic violence incident, the holidays can be an especially difficult and traumatic time of year.

With no place to go, some will rely on a domestic violence shelter to offer safe harbor to them and their children. The domestic violence organizations, in turn, often rely on used items and donations from the public to furnish the shelters and provide victims with necessary items to start their new lives.

In Cascade Locks, five women have used their sewing skills to create 20 handmade quilts that will go to Helping Hands, a local organization that runs two domestic violence shelters in Hood River County.

The group consists of Pat Power, Sherilyn Foley, Jill Rodabaugh, Jean Hankel and Sharon Dean. Dean says she stitched the group together after learning about Helping Hands during a November county council meeting held by the Oregon State University Extension Service. At first, they donated household items to the shelter.

“Sheri (Foley) and I both attended the meeting that day and we thought, well we can do some stuff to help them, so we’ve been bringing various things,” Dean says, “but I felt it in my heart that we could do something more.”

Dean participates in a quilting group in Cascade Locks where she brought up the idea of making quilts for the shelter. Power, who knits clothing for Providence Hood River Memorial Hospital patients as a member of the Busy Fingers volunteer group, offered her help, and others eagerly signed on.

“So I was talking to Pat at a quilting group and she said, ‘Well, I can help,’ and then Jean Hankel was over at another table and said, ‘Well, I can help,’ and Sheri was there and Jill said, ‘Well, I want to learn how to make quilts,’ and so that’s how we come to be the five,” Dean explains.

While some of the group has been quilting for decades — Dean says she’s been quilting since age 6 — others, like Rodabaugh, were new to the craft, but picked it up quickly.

“I had a good teacher,” she says, indicating Dean.

The group busied themselves over the next few weeks collecting and sorting through old bedding, dresses, and other clothing that would serve as patterns for the quilt blocks. With each 42-inch by 55-inch quilt taking “upwards of 10 hours” to make, according to Power, the group collectively spent about 200 hours on the project.

When asked why the group decided on quilt-making as their way to show generosity, Dean lists a number of reasons. She says she was told that upon entrance to the shelter, many victims, especially the children are “crying, they’re scared, they’re cold,” and the quilts would “just be something for them to have comfort.” Dean mentions she also met a woman in Cascade Locks who said she once had to rely on a domestic violence shelter in Portland for help. She has decided to help the group with donations, telling Dean that she experienced firsthand the value of small comforts in domestic violence shelters.

“She was telling me, ‘You just do not know what this is gonna mean to those children,’” Dean said.

Dean has her own story about the effect a homemade quilt can have on a young person. She recalls when her granddaughter, Mariah, who has autism, was 4 years old, she wandered away from home in Bend while under the care of Dean’s ex-son-in-law, who she says had allowed another person to watch the child. A sheriff’s deputy discovered Mariah walking along the road and took her to a local hospital.

Dean says Mariah was “scared and withdrawn” while law enforcement and hospital staff tried to track down the girl’s mother, who was living in Nampa, Idaho, at the time, while trying to calm Mariah.

“They went to the quilt room and brought her a quilt … and she held it around her and she wouldn’t let it go. And the lady who made it had embroidered her name and ‘Bend, Oregon,’ on it,” Dean says.

Eventually, the hospital was able to track down Mariah’s mother, who flew in and took her daughter and the quilt that Mariah wouldn’t let go of. Back in Nampa, Dean’s daughter contacted the hospital to thank staff for their generosity.

“She called that hospital and she found out that lady’s name,” Dean remembers. “She said, ‘I cannot believe that quilt that Mariah just hung onto. She didn’t have nothing else.’ And so my daughter sent her flowers and a card.”

“My granddaughter still has that quilt,” Dean continues “And she’s 22 years old.”

Dean says that memory is a large reason why she decided to donate handmade goods to Helping Hands.

“When you go and purchase something, it’s the purchase time,” she explains. “When you make it, it’s the love time, because you are spending, gobs, gobs of hours doing these.”

Lee Montavon, executive director for Helping Hands, says it’s not often the shelter gets brand-new items to give to their guests. Surprisingly enough, Montavon says many will take an item with them when they leave the shelter. For some, it’s a way to memorialize the experience as they return to their abuser, which Montavon says happens on average seven times before they finally leave “or are killed.” For others, the item represents the start of a new life.

“Believe it or not, we’re hearing back more and more from people that have come through the shelter and almost all of them have kept a little piece of it, somehow, someway,” she says. “It is lovely to hear, but it would be really lovely to give them something new.”

*Article originally published in the Hood River News on 12/21/13.  A publication of Eagle Newspapers, Inc.

**Photo courtesy of Ben Mitchell

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