Quilting for life: Ministry at Tacoma parish keeps babies cozy

  • Written by Michelle Bruno
  • Published in Local
Bundles of Joy quilting club members sew special items for their parish’s Advent festival. Proceeds raise the funds the group needs for the coming year. Photo: Debbie Scoles Bundles of Joy quilting club members sew special items for their parish’s Advent festival. Proceeds raise the funds the group needs for the coming year. Photo: Debbie Scoles

TACOMAOne morning over coffee 11 years ago, Jacque Helland and two friends wondered how they could put their faith into action.

“We’re pro-life, we talk pro-life — what are we doing for these people, how can we make it easier not to abort the child?” as Helland recalls the conversation. 

The answer was creating the Bundles of Joy quilting club at their parish, St. Charles Borromeo in Tacoma. After starting with $300 from the parish, the ministry grew through donations of fabric and a few sewing machines. Shelves, bins and other materials appeared. People volunteered to wash, press and organize the fabric by color. Others joined to do the quilting.

“We didn’t have to ask,” Helland said. “We’d tell people what we were doing, and they were happy to contribute.”

Today, Bundles of Joy meets every other Saturday morning, with 10 to 30 members crafting quilts for new babies. Each year, the group donates more than 100 quilts to the parish’s Gabriel Project as well as other programs supporting mothers and babies, such as Guadalupe Maternity Center in Lakewood. Quilts are also donated directly to children and families in need.

The Saturday sessions include lunch, a tradition started by Kirsten Odencrantz, one of the ministry’s founding members. The quilters take turns providing the meal, which helps bind them together. “Over lunch, we get acquainted with one another,” said member Helen Hein. “If you get acquainted, you stay a member.” 

As the club grew over the years, it also became self-supporting. Each year, quilters make special items to sell at the parish’s Advent festival, netting about $2,000 annually. The money pays for all the supplies needed in the coming year — including batting, fabric and thread — and has allowed the group to buy new machines and recondition them every two to three years.

quiltersMembers of the Bundles of Joy quilting club at St. Charles Borromeo Parish display some of their creations that will keep babies cozy. Photo: Jodie Clark

Member Katie Litwin, a quilter for 30 years, joined Bundles of Joy seven years ago after seeing an item about the quilting club in the parish bulletin.

“I couldn’t drive anymore, so I sat around and made quilts,” Litwin said. When she accumulated far more quilts than needed for her 18 grandchildren and 19 great-grandchildren, she called and asked if someone from the club could pick them up.

Instead of picking up the quilts, someone from the club began picking Litwin up and bringing her to the quilting sessions.

That has made a world of difference to her.

“When I joined St. Charles, I was entering my 80s and was physically limited,” Litwin said. “It seemed there was no place for me to fit in. The quilting club gave me a place.”

The group is open to anyone interested, with any level of experience. They don’t have to be parishioners or have their own sewing machines, or even know how to sew.

“If you want to be part of this mission, we welcome you,” Helland said.

Litwin and her 28-year-old granddaughter, Samantha Litwin, assemble quilting kits to help beginners. “We pick out the fabric, have a set number of easy patterns and cut out the squares, almost like a quilt-by-numbers,” said Samantha, who joined the group about 18 months ago. 

Some members quilt at home, including a woman with carpal tunnel syndrome whose husband helps her. “We do like to encourage people to give in the way that they can,” Samantha Litwin said.

The group isn’t just about helping mothers, “it’s about making others feel needed and wanted,” Katie Litwin said. “It changes your whole life when you find that you’re still needed and your talents are still wanted.”

embroidered label
Each quilt made by the Bundles of Joy members carries an embroidered label made by longtime member Janet Huke. Photo: Jodie Clark

Start a quilting ministry

The Bundles of Joy quilting group of St. Charles Borromeo Parish in Tacoma has received a lot of requests about how to start a successful quilting group.

In response, member Helen Hein wrote a nine-step brochure, “Secrets of a Successful Quilt Club: A Ministry Model,” which is available as a download on Amazon.

All proceeds from brochure sales benefit the parish’s quilting ministry.