With the whir of sewing machines, the snip of scissors and the hum of conversation as music to work by, volunteers across two continents completed 9,504 comforters as part of Mennonite Central Committee’s Great Winter Warm-up in January.
The total exceeded the goal of 6,500 comforters that organizers set. The Great Winter Warm-up comforters will jump-start the collection of more than 50,000 comforters that MCC sends each year to people in crisis around the world.
Although the event centered on making comforters Jan. 18, organizers counted contributions from anyone who made comforters specifically for the Great Winter Warm-up, regardless of the day.
Nine hundred comforters were shipped to Puerto Rico on Jan. 29, where MCC is working with Mennonite Disaster Service to help people affected by earthquakes in January.
“Surpassing the 6,500 goal is an incredible feat but in some ways is not surprising,” said Ann Graber Hershberger, interim associate executive director of MCC U.S. “This is what our supporters do.”
The day started with events in Europe and continued in the U.S. and Canada. Volunteers came to more than 100 locations — churches, offices, homes.
At Salem Mennonite Church in Kidron, Ohio, about 280 volunteers of all ages came together to transform colorful fabric into cozy comforters.
“I was there when we reached 100 completed comforters,” said Sara Obri, an MCC Great Lakes board member from Twinsburg, Ohio, “and everyone put their needle and thread down to clap and cheer.” The group went on to finish 122 comforters.
First centennial event
The number 100 was significant to them and to MCC who, in 2020, celebrates 100 years of ministry, providing relief, supporting sustainable development and encouraging peace in more than 50 countries. The Great Winter Warm-up was the first big event of the centennial year.
“It was pretty humbling, awesome and inspiring to be part of such a big project with people gathering all over the world to make, knot, finish and send comforters to those in need throughout the world,” said Suzanne Stauffer from First Mennonite Church in Sugarcreek, Ohio.
Not only did making comforters connect volunteers with recipients in another country, it also brought people together in their own communities. In San Francisco, Karen Kreider Yoder was delighted by the variety of people who came to make comforters at her house.
“We had neighbors and children, men, and extended family and friends across town who participated. At one of our gatherings, one woman was the designated needle threader. That was her job, and she kept right up with the demand, ready with a new threaded needle as needed,” Kreider Yoder said.
The need is growing
Every comforter is important, said Tom Wenger, MCC U.S. material resources coordinator.
“Many of the people receiving these comforters have been displaced from their homes, needing to flee for their lives and leaving most of their possessions behind,” Wenger said.
“These beautiful, handmade comforters provide some warmth and demonstrate God’s love by showing that somebody cares for them.”
With more than 70 million people displaced in the world today, the need for relief and hope is growing. Last year, MCC shipped more than 53,000 comforters to Bosnia and Herzegovina, Haiti, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, Malawi, North Korea, Serbia, Syria and Ukraine as well as throughout the U.S. and Canada.
The number of comforter requests MCC receives from its partner organizations is greater than the number of comforters it can provide, so more comforters are needed this year.
Comforters warm the heart
In more than 100 locations, participants in the Great Winter Warm-up made the experience their own.
— A group in the Netherlands had so much fun that they planned to meet and make comforters on a regular basis.
— In Winnipeg, Man., a group decided to time themselves in order to create comforters as efficiently as possible.
— Stories of the lasting impacts of Mennonite Central Committee’s relief work materialized. A participant in Germany mentioned that as a child she had been wrapped in an MCC comforter after the end of the Second World War.
— In Alberta, a group from the Islamic Family & Social Services Association heard about the event and wanted to help.
“[The] majority of them came from refugee camps, and they still remember the bitter taste of life and the harshness of the cold winter there,” said Rola Mustafa, refugee support manager at IFSSA. “The ladies were so overwhelmed with a sense of happiness and fulfillment. This is why all of them stayed till the end of the day. We’d like to thank MCC for always giving us a chance to give back.” — Renata Buhler, MCC