"Angel Blankets" Bring Comfort Thousands of Miles Away
The Least of My Children
It all begins with fabric and a sewing machine. Anyone who has ever sewn a garment, a baby blanket or a quilt realizes that with each fabric choice, with each spool of thread, with each needle piercing through to the bobbin below, each project we create carries with it a part of our very soul. As unique as each face is one from another, our projects stand out as something so personal, so special, that we would recognize them in an instant, no matter where they might travel. The projects we create, those that we pour our hearts into, become the very fabric of our lives, and the life, that each article touches.
So it is with the stitching ministry of Holy Family Church and School, in East Tawas, Michigan. The ladies lovingly refer to the comforters they make as Angel Blankets, a name chosen to coincide with Food for the Poors Angels of Hope program which distributes most of the blankets to orphanages and nutritional centers for children. Some 4,000 blankets have been tenderly crafted, finding their way to nine different countries, including Guatemala, Honduras, Dominican Republic, and Haiti. The women of Holy Familys stitching ministry have committed 2010 to the children of Haiti.
Shoes are another component of the outreach effort, with many pairs of shoes donated by the parish and school to the children of Haiti through Food for the Poor.
Notre Maison home and St. Joseph Orphanage, in Haiti, has been one recipient of Angel Blankets. Sister Gertrude, a Missionaries of Charity sister, converted her home into this shelter for disabled children and orphans. Presently, she houses 35 children. The parishioners of Holy Family Church and School have forged a special bond with this particular orphanage, providing not only blankets, but also shoes, food, money, and other resources.
Besides the house that shelters her children, Sister Gertrude owns a guest house located in Port-au-Prince, some ten miles away. She rents the guest house to travelers and missionaries who use the facility during their stay in Haiti. She uses the income from the guest house to support her orphanage.
John Obermeyer from Tawas developed a special interest in helping Haiti a year ago and runs The Haiti Care Mission from his home. He has made the trip several times to deliver quilts and other items from across the U.S. to those in need in Haiti. Last summer, Sister Gertrude, needing a respite from her duties, traveled to East Tawas to personally thank our congregation for their generosity. During Sister Gertrudes absence, Obermeyer traveled to Haiti to help care for the children.
During her visit, Sister Gertrude was invited to look through the huge collection of shoes in order for her to return with appropriate footwear for the children and staff. She smiled as she sat on a chair sorting and selecting for over an hour. For most of these children it would be the first pair of shoes that they had ever owned.
Then came the afternoon of January 12, 2010. The most devastating earthquake to hit Haiti in one hundred years was centered in Port-au-Prince. Life would change forever. The earth started to rumble, then it rolled, and took on a life of its own as it began to move. Trees were ripped from the soil that had caressed their very roots. Windows broke, walls cracked and buildings crumbled. Gas lines ruptured, fires erupted, and more than 200,000 lives were ultimately lost; 300,000 people were injured and more than one million were left homeless. The primary quake lasted less than one minute. The aftershocks continued for days.
When the earth began to shake Sister Gertrude was in the basement of her guest house. She quickly ran up the stairs and headed toward the street. As she exited the doorway, the entire structure crumbled, roof toppling upon walls, upon windows, upon plaster, upon furniture, upon cement. She watched in horror. When the dust settled, what remained was an indistinguishable pile of rubble.
At her home ten miles away, the children did not understand what was happening as the walls began to creak and the earth began to shake. Frightened, they were shuttled and carried out into the yard. As the earth continued its groan the children began to cry, but the house remained intact. All the children were saved at Sister Gertrudes home, but that was not the case in many other places across the island nation.
In a flurry of emails a few days after the earthquake, the parish community in East Tawas received the good news that the orphans and workers were safe and the house sustained only minor damage. Sister Gertrude told of her escape from the guest house and reported the total loss of the building, her only source of income. The traumatized children refused to go back into the house, preferring instead to sleep outside on the ground atop their Angel Blankets.
As the days passed and camera crews recorded the immense devastation, and the incredible loss of life, members of our community here watched with frustration and horror. There were reports of areas with no water and no food. John and Janet Kowal, parishioners at Holy Family who had hosted Sr. Gertrude during her visit and had accompanied Obermeyer previously, arranged to travel to Haiti with a load of supplies. Other members made donations of cash to be taken to Sister Gertrudes orphanage.
Julie Pung, an active member of the blanket ministry at Holy Family, stared at her television as the horrific scenes unfolded. Suddenly she saw a child wandering through the rubble taking particular notice of the blanket that encircled the tiny body. Could it be one of my blankets? she pondered. It certainly looked very familiar. Winnie the Pooh could clearly be seen on the back of the quilt; she had created several blankets with that material. The child clutched the comfort quilt, as though it was his last possession on earth. Julie began to cry. Rising from the devastation, the Angel Blanket was indeed comforting a little angel.
Obermeyer also reported that other ladies who had stitched Angel Blankets actually saw their blankets on a CNN news report. One lady said she saw footage of workers carrying bodies from the rubble of another orphanage, and she recognized her blanket being used as a shroud to drape one of the tiny victims.
Blankets and quilts are very personal possessions. We use them to warm us, to cover us, to comfort us when we are full of sorrow. My own grandchildren use the quilts I have made for them as wraps, a special kind of hug, when I cannot be there to give them one myself. My quilts have been taken to war by my sons, a piece of home to comfort them during their lengthy tours of duty on foreign soil, fighting an endless war. Children in Haiti have curled their tired bodies beneath Angel Blankets, a security blanket to these lonely, frightened children as they cry themselves to sleep.
Our Lord was wrapped in a shroud by the women who received His body at the foot of the Cross. One of those women had poured her soul into the creation of that garment, not knowing at the time that it would be used to cover the broken body of Christ, Our Savior.
We do not know where our Angel Blankets will go as they travel to foreign lands. Perhaps they will be used to cover a sleeping baby, to comfort a frightened child, or to wrap the broken body of a tiny victim. As we create each project, complete each seam, turn each corner and stitch each hem, we are reminded that, as long as you did this for one of these, the least of my children, you did it for Me.
Margaret Wasilewski lives near East Tawas, Michigan with her husband Ted. They are members of Holy Family Catholic Church in East Tawas.
A Haitian child poses with their special quilt lovingly created by the stitching ministry of Holy Family, East Tawas. Though the orphanage and home for disabled children that Sr. Gertrude runs sustained only minor damage in the January earthquake, the children prefer to sleep on the ground with their Angel Blankets, afraid to even lay on a cot for fear of falling.