Months before her 60th birthday, Karen Kreider Yoder sat with family around the table discussing how to celebrate.
“I wanted to do something that wasn’t just for me,” she said. “I wanted to do something that was a peacemaking, community-building act.”
Mennonite Central Committee’s comforter project appealed to her, as both of her parents had worked with MCC in Germany after World War II.
“I love to make quilts,” she said. “I kept hearing about MCC’s need for comforters for refugees around the world.”
According to mcc.org, there were 45,443 comforters shipped last year to Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Ethiopia, Haiti, North Korea, Ukraine, Serbia, Iraq, Canada, the U.S. and elsewhere.
Yoder originally envisioned making six comforters — one for each decade of her life.
“Then I started piecing the comforters and realized it doesn’t take that long to make them,” she said.
She decided on a new goal of 60 comforters for her 60 years. After assembling five comforter tops, she posted photos of them to her Facebook page and shared her birthday plan.
“It really took off via Facebook,” she said. Childhood friends she hadn’t talked to for years responded with warm wishes and offered to donate supplies or money. Family members made comforter tops and shipped them to her. Gradually, she added more photos as the comforter tops came in.
Several people from Yoder’s congregation, First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, joined the project.
“Once I had 20 comforter tops, we did a comforter-tying party different weekends at our house,” Yoder said. “It was such a fun way to be together and work on a project. . . . The talk around the comforter goes deeper and more intimate as the comforter is rolled smaller and smaller into the middle.”
Comforter tying became a highlight of the church retreat in September, when the congregation divided into teams to see who could tie their comforter in the least amount of time.
“Our congregation had such a fun time with this,” Yoder said. “The winning team tied their comforter in 46 minutes. . . . People are talking about trying to best their times at next year’s retreat.”
Yoder pieced 22 comforters herself. Twenty other people helped piece comforter tops. More than 60 people helped with tying, and more than 10 people sent boxes of fabric.
“I ended up with more fabric than I started with,” Yoder said. “I felt like it was a little bit like [Jesus] feeding the 5,000.”
Yoder’s goal was to get all the comforters finished the Sunday before her birthday on Oct. 18 so they could be displayed during the church service and receive a blessing before being sent off. As time grew short, she became concerned they wouldn’t all be finished. Her sister flew to San Francisco from Minnesota to help finish binding the final 20 comforters.
The project was begun June 10. Sixty-five comforters were completed by Oct. 1. Yoder had exceeded her goal.
On Oct. 18, she celebrated her birthday by taking the comforters to the West Coast MCC resource center in Reedley, Calif.
There they were received by Pauline Aguilar, coordinator of volunteers.
“It was real exciting for someone to want to give something like this on her birthday,” Aguilar said. “Not only because she wanted to do it, but she included diverse people to be part of this celebration with her.”
Aguilar said she felt it was important that Yoder be involved in packing the comforters in the boxes, to see them sent off to where they were needed.
“I’ve served in other cultures where birthdays are celebrated by giving out instead of taking in, and that’s what I saw in the gift that she gave,” Aguilar said.
Yoder said she’d like to see more congregations take on a similar project to celebrate their own milestones.
“How about if a congregation would say, ‘We’ve been together 50 or 100 years. Let’s do something to commemorate this. Let’s make 100 comforters for MCC,’ ” she said. “MCC really needs tens of thousands of comforters every year. They need more than we could possibly ever make. My project is truly a drop in the bucket of the need.”
Yoder tagged each comforter with a note of encouragement for the person receiving it.
“We humans all need beauty; whether we’re fleeing or on the road, we still need some beauty in our lives,” she said. “That was our goal: Beauty, warmth and love.”