Marg Johnson and Lisa Dunstan are providing hugs to wildfire evacuees, one quilt at a time, via a project that is particularly personal for one of them.
Johnson says she was moved by the plight of evacuees from Lytton following the fire on June 30 that destroyed 90 per cent of the community. Through Heather’s Fabric Shelf and Katja’s Quilt Shoppe in Kamloops, she put out the word to quilters from coast to coast, saying she was looking for donations of quilts for people from Lytton.
“There’s a network of quilters, and we said that we’d ensure they were distributed to Lytton and area evacuees,” says Johnson. The message went to thousands of people, and soon quilts were arriving at the two stores, where they were picked up daily.
In the first week after putting out the appeal, 173 quilts came in, with hundreds more eventually arriving: not only from Canada, but from as far away as Alaska and New Jersey. Quilting stores in the Lower Mainland also collected more than 300 quilts, and soon the list of possible recipients was expanded to include people who were evacuated from other areas, including Skeetchestn.
The pair have been travelling all over the area — to Lytton, Merritt, Lillooet, and Ashcroft — and Johnson says that at first all they saw were shell-shocked faces. They put the word out that the quilts were not just for people who had lost their homes but for anyone who had been impacted by this year’s wildfires.
“Everyone can use a hug, especially during COVID-19,” she says, and since hugs are difficult right now due to the pandemic, the quilts can take their place. People are able to pick out the quilt they want, and choose from different sizes and a huge array of patterns: everything from holiday- and sports-themed quilts to ones designed for children.
Johnson explains the large number of quilts by noting that most quilters have a stockpile of them. “We’ve already provided for family and friends. The Sagebrush Quilters Guild in Kamloops provides around 350 quilts a year for cancer patients at Royal Inland Hospital, and others go to babies in the NICU. We find outlets to donate our quilts, because we need to find homes for them.”
Dunstan does the organizing — “We need organization,” laughs Johnson — and liaises with local groups, such as the volunteers in Ashcroft and Cache Creek who have been working to support evacuees in the area. Phyllis Rainey, one of those volunteers, says she heard about the pair and what they were doing, and asked if they could come to Ashcroft with some of their quilts. They have been here twice, most recently at a luncheon held for evacuees on Sept. 26.
The quilt project hits close to home for Dunstan, who lost her home in Lytton and is currently living with her son in Kamloops. Earlier this summer she volunteered at the donation centre in Kamloops, which is where she and Johnson got together. Dunstan was able to help connect quilts to people, as she knew quite a few people in Lytton.
“It’s kept me busy,” she says. “It’s easier to stay busy than to just sit around. And everyone is so happy to get the quilts.”
Johnson agrees. “Our little group decided to help, and here we are. We say ‘If you’re evacuated, here’s a hug.’”