Loraine Berge has spent the past few years helping her community and those in need the best way she knows how: with a needle and thread. In the past 18 months, however, the Heidelberg resident and lifelong quilter has undertaken perhaps her most challenging task yet, as she made 187 quilts to be sent to the impoverished island nation of Haiti, still recovering from a devastating earthquake that struck nearly two years ago.
Her project began in March of 2010, and Berge had no idea her donation would grow to be this large. Even though she was working part-time hours for the Mechanical Contractors Association in Kitchener, she made the task her full-time job.
“I just enjoy sewing and I’ve got time now since I’m only working part-time – I feel like I’m really doing something useful,” she said.
The 187 quilts will be brought to Haiti by Waterloo’s Trinity Evangelical Missionary Church and Elmira-resident Marilyn Mcilroy, who was in Haiti during the earthquake on Jan. 12, 2010 that killed more than 250,000 people and left countless more homeless.
She heard about the group after seeing a television news piece about their plan to travel to Haiti in the new year to build pre-fabricated homes. After getting in contact with MacIlroy, Berge learned of an orphanage with some 80 kids in Haiti and she decided that she wanted some of the quilts to go there, and for the rest to be spread around as they were needed.
“I was hoping to donate them this fall and I thought that was where I’d like them to go,” she said.
“They’re so poor, one of the poorest countries in the world, and they’ve been through that horrible earthquake and still now have hardly anything to survive.”
Berge also said that McIlroy told her that in Haiti, despite being a Caribbean nation, it can get quite cold at night and the quilts would be appreciated.
The fabric came from a wide array of sources, from garage sales and donations, to the scraps that were going to be thrown away by furniture and fabric shops.
Berge has been sewing and quilting for as long as she can remember – at least 50 years, she said – and when she was a young girl she can remember her grandmother setting out quilts for her to practice on.
“I’m sure she took the stitches out when we left and redid them,” Berge laughed.
“I’ve just quilted ever since.”
For this project, Berge undertook most of the work herself with the help of two Mennonite women whom she hired to do the actual quilting. Berge cut the material, laid it out, stitched it, pressed it, and finished the edges once it was quilted.
Since her semi-retirement a few years ago, she’s now made nearly 300 quilts. Some have gone to local cancer patients, others to the London Health Science Centre to be raffled off in fundraisers, and others still have been given to the local Heart and Stroke society and Rotary Clubs to raise money as well.
She said the look on people’s faces when they receive the handmade quilts is well worth the work, and much more personal than any mass-produced item from a store.
“I think that means so much more to people when they receive them.”
Now, with her Haiti donation complete, does Berge intend to take a few weeks of from her quilting?
As if to answer that question, she walked over to her worktable, picked up a pile of fabric and with a smile she said, “Here are three… four… five ready to go. I’ll just keep on. I think it’s something that is very worthwhile.”