EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

New Hampshire

May 1, 2007

'Ugly quilts' pretty helpful: Group knits sleeping bags for homeless

KINGSTON - Hope Jahn packed her Subaru wagon up to the windows, multicolored quilt patches peeking through the rain-covered glass as she pulled away from the Kingston Congregational Church. Her "HOPES" license plate properly tags the cargo she transports to a soup kitchen in Manchester each month.

Jahn drives "ugly quilts," made by women who volunteer with the My Brothers' Keeper Quilt Group Kingston Chapter. The organization, started by a woman in Pennsylvania, makes quilts from donated material and then donates the blankets to the homeless.

Wednesday morning nine women from Southern New Hampshire gathered to sew and chat. Mary Kaltenbach arrived at 9 a.m. with her own sewing machine, ready to sew Velcro on three edges of finished quilts and fasten them into sleeping bags. She joined the group a little more than a year ago. She said she had the time and loves sewing, so she thought would be a good opportunity to help out.

Lisa Fortin of Newton said the Kingston group has been together for about six years. They've had members come and go, but are primarily made of retired women and a few stay-at-home moms. Members of the community donate plenty of material to the group, then they meet the first and third Wednesday mornings of the month to construct the quilts.

The women start by sewing the fabric squares together into 84-inch-square blankets. They put batting between two layers, sew them and add the Velcro so the quilt can be used as a sleeping bag.

The finished product takes three Wednesday mornings to complete, with each woman working on a different step of the process to speed things.

"They're called ugly quilts because the fabric doesn't always match," Fortin said. "But that way, the homeless people won't sell them."

Ugly quilts were started for just that reason - to give back to the homeless and help keep them warm.

A woman named Flo Wheatley began ugly quilts after an experience with her sick son in New York City in 1979, according to Fortin. After a visit to the hospital, her son collapsed on the street and no one would help her. Then a homeless man picked him up and helped her take him all the way home on the train. After returning to the corner where it happened several times and not finding the man, Wheatley began an ugly quilt group.

Fortin said there are My Brothers' Keeper chapters nationally now.

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