A touching delivery
Betty Nielsen's dream to comfort the families of the victims of the September 11 tragedies marches on.
The Fonda-based Freedom Quilters just returned from their latest delivery of handmade memorial quilts, this time to the New Jersey area, bringing the total to about 3,400 quilts. Her goal is to deliver one Freedom Quilt to each victim's family, with help from countless church and youth groups, clubs, schools and individuals nationwide.
"The families are still in so much pain," she said. " A lot of them told us that one place where they feel safe is their car that is where they let out their pain without having anyone see them. Most of them have children so they try as hard as they can to keep life going smoothly for their children - which isn't a very easy job. They comfort each other. It's like a family.
"The families were so overjoyed by their quilts that there were so many tears. This time it was more one on one since we had two days to hand out quilts. We even got a chances to take pictures of some of the families," Nielsen said.
"There were many tears and still many problems that they are trying to deal with. So many of them were so grateful that we came with the quilts instead of sending them. They wanted quilts with letters and pictures as they wanted to touch base with the quilter that made them their quilt. It was something else to see them pick out their quilts."
One woman told Nielsen that only in America would a stranger go out of their way to bring comfort to someone halfway across the country that they might never meet.
"They all talk about all the love that they could see done in those quilts- A lot of the families were so touched by the fact that students would make quilts for them. Some of them just had to have a child quilt for it meant so much that children care to take time to do something so special," Nielsen said. "We all know that children are a gift from heaven, and what an honor they considered it to be to have a quilt from a child.
"There was one quilt that had the word 'Iowa' and the date Sept 11. 2001. Two ladies were looking at the quilts and tears just kept running down their cheeks. One told me that to this day she still can't write that date down - it's just too painful."
While everyone is getting ready to move on to the year 2003 she is still in 2001, she told Nielsen.
"As beautiful as the quilt was she just couldn't see taking it so she went for another quilt. The other lady decided she wanted it for the purpose that it said Iowa it will be a reminder to her how stranger that didn't even know them came 1,200 miles to bring them a comforter that would be a treasurer to pass on down to her family."
Some families still can't deal with anything that has the twin towers. and one quilt did have a drawing of the twin towers. "As a woman picked her quilt with joy and showed it off to another lady, when they opened it up to show it off tears came down and she gently folded the quilt and put it back," Nielsen said. "She went and picked another quilt. As I watch and talked to the families I realize that some things are just to painful for them to deal with. It is something that I know I will remember as I make the families their quilts."
Some that came for their quilts were adult daughters or mothers of victims who might otherwise not be included in the efforts to provide comfort to victims' households. "They were so very thankful that they were given the chance to have something in honor of their love one. One said it was like God had taken all the good people that day because as they go to the group session and listen to others talk about their love ones it's like they were talking about their son or daughter."
One lady came and as she open the quilt, she read the letter that was inside. "She lost it right there she just could not stop crying. I wonder if I had caused more harm than good but soon found out that they were tears of joy that a stranger would care so much for them," Nielsen said. "As the tears were pouring down her face she gave me a big hug.
"It is because of all the volunteers like the ones who made that quilt that we can bring some comfort. They care enough to make a different to help people heal. All of them thank me for not letting people all over forget them."
The rewards are great both for the recipients and the volunteers of Freedom Quilts, Nielsen said.
"It show them that it didn't matter how near or far you are, one kindness spreads into another kindness."
Some families do write back to the quilt-makers and some even become friends with the quilters. "Because of this project I have meet so many touching and loving people that I would of never had the honor to meet. I have seen that from opening my heart to the families I received a lot more," Nielsen said.
"I'm so very proud of my community and all the quilters, and people that donated in one way or another. You have truly made a different in making this world a better place to live. God bless you all for caring and may your reward be grand.
The next trip will be in January to deliver quilts to additional families.
Freedom Quilters still welcomes donations of quilts and financial help. They can be reached at 13637 550th Street, Fonda, 50540, or on-line at www.freedomquilts.net.