BYRON -- The Comforting Quilters have come together like a patchwork of fabric spread across the tables.
Some were taught to quilt by mothers and grandmothers. Others were novices, so wet behind the ears they had to learn how to hold their scissors.
The group was founded by a woman by the name of, appropriately enough, Julie Love. A self-described philanthropic lunatic, she and her husband, Mike, moved to Peach County eight years ago from Ogden, Utah. They bought and restored a century-old home a block from Main Street in Byron.
A veteran quilter, Julie rounded up a couple of friends, Karla Chidester and Para Vinson, and widened the sewing circle to include anyone with a needle and thread and a heart for service.
They began meeting on the third Saturday of every month. Julie opened the doors of her home to the hum of sewing machines from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., making lap quilts to bring comfort to people in times of both joy and sorrow.
They made quilts for newlyweds and new parents. They stitched quilts for patients in cancer wards.
They sent them to worthy folks in the community and to youngsters at The Childrens Hospital in Macon. They shipped a quilt to a 5-year-old girl with brain cancer in New York after Julie saw a Facebook post.
They added personal touches whenever they learned about individual interests or favorite colors.
Like millions of Americans, the quilters were deeply saddened when a gunman killed 20 children and six adults last December at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn. It was the second-deadliest mass shooting in American history.
Julie read the profiles of children with names like Grace, Dylan, Olivia and Noah. Then she came across the name of Emilie Parker, a 6-year-old with blond hair and blue eyes.
My daughter, Emilie, would be one of the first ones to be standing up and giving her love and support to all of those victims, because that is the type of person she is, her father, Robbie Parker, told CNN.
He said Emilie never missed an opportunity to draw a picture or make a card for those around her. This world is a better place because she has been in it, he said.
For Julie, it suddenly got personal. She recognized the name of Robbie Parker and his wife, Alissa. They had been high school classmates in Ogden with Julies daughter, Janelle Miller, who now lives in Macon. The Parker family had moved to Connecticut eight months before the shooting. Robbie accepted a job as a physicians assistant at a hospital in Danbury.
Since Jan. 19, the Comforting Quilters have been making quilts for the families of the 26 victims and three additional quilts for the EMTs, police and fire departments that responded on that tragic day.
More than a dozen women (and one man, Scott Pirc) now meet twice a month on the first and third Saturdays. Julie places a sign in her yard on those days to let others know about the continuing efforts.
Volunteers have given their time and financial resources to purchase more than 100 yards of fabric. The eight-month project has been documented in photographs by Bonnie Gehling, a retired teacher.
On Sunday, Sept. 29, the public is invited to a Blessing of the Sandy Hook Quilts from 2-4 p.m. at the Byron Welcome Center in the Peach Shops at Byron. The quilts will be displayed, each with a handmade card and angel. There will be blessings by local pastors.
In November, eight members of the Comforting Quilters will make the 830-mile trip in an RV to Newtown, where they will deliver the quilts. They want to remain low key, without a lot of fanfare. (They will make a wide swing to the west on the way home to visit the National Quilt Museum in Paducah, Ky.)
It wasnt in the plans at first to take the quilts up there, said Julie. But I said we couldnt just put them in a brown box and mail them. We dont know if we will get to see everybody. If we do, we will give them a hug. This has been a journey. It has helped us heal, too.
Reach Gris at 744-4275 or email@example.com