Local quilting organization ‘Pieces’ donates time and blankets to children at Lawrence Memorial Hospital

Pieces members, along with Denise Martinek, director of the LMH Family Birthing Center, display some of the quilts they have made. From left: Beth Reynolds, Marla Welch, Martinek and Shelly Hornbaker.

This time of year, the holiday experts in magazines promise that, between baking perfect cookies and wrapping stunning gifts, setting aside personal time will make for a stress-free season. But Marla Welch of Lawrence knows it’s putting others first that, in the end, proves most satisfying.

“The more you can do for others, the better you feel,” she said. “Helping others in turn helps you.”

When multiple sclerosis forced her to step down from her job in 2006, Welch, a bubbly, habitual do-gooder and self-proclaimed quilting addict, found an outlet for her energy in the national Quilts for Kids program. After crafting a few beauties for some deserving children, the impersonality of sending her labors of love to unknown patients in unknown hometowns made Welch think she could do better.

A few calls to the Lawrence Memorial Hospital pediatrics unit later, Welch and a handful of recruits established a local children’s quilting organization last April. The only job left was to find a name.

“One of my many philosophies is that there are many pieces in life we need to put together,” Welch said. “We’re sewing quilt pieces together, so ‘Pieces’ just fit.”

More about Pieces

To learn more about Pieces and Marla Welch’s endeavors, visit her blog at http://piecedthings.blogspot.com.

If you’re interested in contributing to Pieces Inc., in-kind and monetary donations may be sent in care of Shelly Hornbaker; 1619 E. 686 Rd.; Lawrence 66049.

For more information about getting involved in Pieces, contact Marla Welch at doublehawks2@gmail.com or Shelly Hornbaker at shellyhornbaker@gmail.com.

Pieces’ first creation was a red and green ladybug-print quilt, proudly presented to a 2-year-old girl named Chloe. Since then, the demand for more quilts has grown. Countless Kansans have contributed to the cause, as well as donors from as far away as Oregon and Washington, D.C. The group now has eight regular and several part-time volunteers.

“The mission of Pieces is to provide each child from a few days old to age 18 who is admitted to LMH for an illness a quilt that they can use while at the hospital and then take home with them,” Welch said. “Being in the hospital is a scary time for a child. Our quilts give them something to hold on to and comfort them. In our letter to the parents, we tell them out of difficult situations come pieces of unexpected joy. We hope our quilts are a part of that.”

For Welch, her piece of joy is picturing the young recipients of her designs.

“As I am making the quilt, I love imagining in my mind some darling child hugging it and feeling like someone cares.”

Denise Martinek, director of the LMH Family Birthing Center, enjoys seeing children’s faces when they receive a quilt.

“Their eyes light up, and they are grinning ear to ear,” she said. “These quilts give them comfort and let them know they are special.”

The altruism of the Piecers touches not only the patients but also everyone involved in the project.

“Parents are amazed by the donation and are so impressed that someone has taken the time to handcraft a quilt for their child,” Martinek said. “These ladies had the option of donating to a larger organization that would provide the supplies free of charge, but they opted to bear the expense of the supplies so they could donate in their own community.”

The Pieces quilters have received everything from phone calls to thank-you cards in recognition of their selfless work. But nothing beats the delivery of the finished products, said Pieces member Shelly Hornbaker of Lawrence.

“I love hearing about the reactions of the children and the families who receive them. That’s my favorite aspect of it,” she said. “Close behind, though, is the camaraderie of the quilters. Meeting new people and building friendships as we work together to get them all done has been an amazing experience.”

To give back to the community through Pieces, it takes only a scrap of fabric or a spool of thread. As a nonprofit, the organization welcomes any contributions or helpers.

“There’s no piece of fabric given to us we don’t use. We can use pieces as small as one inch by one inch,” Welch said.

The group works using a tag-team system, with each volunteer responsible for part of the process: cutting, designing, sewing and quilting.

While Pieces has flourished beyond what she ever envisioned, Welch has high ambitions for the organization’s future.

“I hope we can continue to grow so we can meet the growing demand for quilts. I also hope it spreads and encourages others to do something in their communities,” Welch said. “We all get more out of it than we put into it. It has been such a rewarding experience, both bringing warmth and love to children and seeing how everyone has really jumped in. It makes me want to hurry up and make more quilts.”

— Jennifer Hornbaker, a Lawrence native, is a fundraising and public relations consultant and a freelance writer. She can be reached at jenhornbaker@gmail.com.