September 9, 2005

Faithful Lines / Shirley Vogler Meister

‘Ugly Quilts’ and caring for the homeless

Years ago, while cool-weather camping with my husband in a small new tent in Colorado, a heavy rain pelted us during the night. I awoke in pitch-dark so cold my teeth chattered. My comfortable husband could not understand why. We learned at dawn that my side of the tent was defective, so icy water ran down the canvas, soaking only my sleeping bag and me. How I suffered!

I recall that experience whenever I think about homeless persons sleeping night after night outdoors, especially during winter or in other inclement weather. How much more they suffer!

Help sometimes comes their way in the good work of good people. In the 1990s, my own parish began helping in a significant way when Fran Quigley introduced an Ugly Quilts project she read about in a Family Circle magazine. Another parishioner, Mary Zinkan (317-842-2824), is now in charge with Fran’s guidance and (as Mary said) “with  enthusiasm of  parishioners and friends who volunteer … with enough help, this could be a yearlong project.”

Readers can access the Family Circle article on the Internet at For those without computers, here is a condensed version of the story gleaned from the work of writer Celeste Mitchell: 

In the 1980s, rural Pennsylvanian Flo Wheatley founded an organization called My Brother’s Keeper after a series of experiences with the homeless during trips to New York City for her son Leonard’s non-Hodgkins lymphoma treatments. Each time she went, she became more affected by their plight, especially remembering the first man she encountered. He had softly said to her, “Don’t abandon me.” After two years, Leonard showed signs of a recovery, but still went to New York for follow-up tests. She noticed a man wrapped in a crocheted blanket. Since Flo worked 17 years as a nurse, she knew the dangers of hypothermia.

At home, she gathered whatever scraps of fabric she could find to produce a quilt she turned into a sleeping bag. Her husband, Jim, took her to the city to find a recipient. The family made eight sleeping bags that year—7 feet by 7 feet so that even a mother and child could cuddle in warmth. They stuffed the bags with mittens, hats and sweaters. (Some include faith messages and prayers of hope.)

Neighbors began participating and a local church pastor invited her to demonstrate the project. To make sure volunteers were not daunted, they called their product Ugly Quilts. This idea has since spread throughout America.

Parishes and individuals can find more information and quilt instructions on the Internet site in this column or by writing:

My Brother’s Keeper Quilt Group
c/o Wheatley, Strawberry Hill Farm
R.R. 1, Box 1049
Hop Bottom, PA 18824

(Shirley Vogler Meister, a member of Christ the King Parish in Indianapolis, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)


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