PERRYSBURG — Most days and nights, the red, white and blue quilt with the swatches of pale blue skies and fluffy white clouds, is draped over the loveseat in Don and Sharon Belkofer’s Perrysburg Township home.
|Brenda Kern, left, and Karen Caldwell making quilts. (Photos: J.D. Pooley/Sentinel-Tribune)
But when it’s cold — or Sharon Belkofer just needs a reminder of her son, Tom, who was killed in Afghanistan in May 2010 — she reaches for it.
The quilt is like a hug from her child. It’s comfort.
“Not only does it remind me of Tom and give me some comfort there, but it also conveys the warmth and compassion and sympathy that each of them, the two or three ladies that worked on the quilt, have for me and my family,” Belkofer said.
The family was presented the quilt the fall after Belkofer, a 44-year-old lieutenant colonel, was ambushed by a suicide bomber.
A group called Blue Skies Quilting and Gifts in Perrysburg had heard about Belkofer, a graduate of Rossford High School and Bowling Green State University. The women carefully select victims of tragedies and piece together a comfort quilt for them or their families.
“A quilt is something they can wrap themselves in and know that long after the tragedy, people love them,” said Blue Skies founder, Theresa Howard, speaking over the hum of a sewing machine in the tiny store in the Country Charm Shopping Center.
On a January day about three weeks after the Sandy Hook school shootings, Howard couldn’t shake the feeling that she had to reach out to the Newtown, Conn., community. She picked up the phone and was soon talking to a Sandy Hook Elementary administrator who thought the comfort quilts would be a wonderful way to remember the victims, Howard said.
Then came the daunting task of making 26 quilts.
|A quilt being made at Blue Skies Quilting.
“It was one of those things where you act before you think,” said Karen Caldwell, Perrysburg, who’s been volunteering with Blue Skies for about a year. The giving angle combined with quilting appealed to her.
“When you receive something handmade from someone who doesn’t know you from Adam, it’s touching,” she said. “If you can help them in any way … go on in life, continue, then I’ve succeeded in what I want to do.
“I always think of quilts as hugs.”
Brenda Kern, Maumee, estimated it takes about a week of continuous, hard work to make one 12-foot-long quilt.
The white rectangle table where the women stitch, cut and press, is surrounded by three walls of shelves stocked floor to ceiling with vibrantly colored fabrics. The material is chosen — sometimes almost agonizingly — for each comfort quilt. Howard has a special spot for each shooting victim in Newtown.
“I should have them all memorized by now,” Howard said, flipping through a tattered People magazine that featured the Newton victims. Each picture is covered with green Post-Its with Howard’s notes.
The quilt for James Mattioli, who Howard dubbed the “little baseball guy,” has a section with tennis shoes and mitts. The backing will have a fabric with mowers, wheelbarrows and rakes, symbolizing the 6-year-old’s love of yard work.
The material with the hot-pink cowboy boots was perfect to honor Jessica Rekos, who had wanted for a pair for Christmas. Howard read that the 6-year-old would leave little love notes around the house for her family, so the backing of her quilt is covered with hearts.
Sandy Hook school psychologist Mary Sherlock was getting ready to retire to a cabin in the woods before she was gunned down. Howard was delighted to find fabric featuring a cabin surrounded by trees with leaves turning, smoke wisping from its chimney.
There are other quilts started, with swatches of firefighters, angels, hummingbirds, beaches and soccer balls – images that represent every Sandy Hook victim.
Howard only started quilting four years ago on a whim. The 60-year-old Perrysburg woman was looking for a fun hobby that would develop friendships. She recruited some friends and a teacher and instantly became addicted.
“The beauty of fabrics and creating is so therapeutic,” she said.
She decided to expand her hobby into a ministry and Blue Skies was born.
Her main mission is mentoring troubled girls, showing them how to quilt and also teaching them how to give to others.
“Nobody gets any salary. It’s all volunteer,” Howard said.
“We sell fabric, but it goes back into making more quilts,” Caldwell said.
For all of its good intentions, the group is in trouble.
It costs around $100 to make each quilt and Blue Skies is stalled at five completed ones for the 26 Sandy Hook victims.
The main expense is finishing each quilt, which requires a long-arm quilting machine. It essentially connects all three layers of the quilt. The machines can cost upward of $14,000.
The women take their quilts to other shops that have the machine and pay to finish them.
Blue Skies has five board members who decide comfort quilt requests. There are about a dozen volunteers who put the quilts together.
They’ve made and given comfort quilts to the Millbury girl whose mom, dad and brother were killed in the 2010 tornado and to the Toledo toddler whose sister was shot to death in their apartment last summer.
Howard believes Blue Skies is the only 501(c)(3) registered, non-profit quilt shop in the country.
To sponsor a quilt or make a donation, contact Howard at (419) 872-4500. The shop’s address is 130 W. S. Boundary St., Perrysburg, Ohio 43551. The store also offers quilting classes, including beginner ones.