Like many Americans, Gabriele Dubin-Bullard, a South Florida stockbroker, was glued to news coverage of Hurricane Katrina’s devastation in August. Then, abruptly, she turned off the television.
“I thought, I’ve got to do something!” says Dubin-Bullard, who lives in Fort Lauderdale. “I’m not going to change the course of things by sitting in front of the TV and crying.”
Dubin-Bullard called her friend, Fay Nicoll, 59, the owner of a quilting and sewing shop, Sunshine Sewing Co., in Margate, Fla. (pop. 53,909). She suggested to Nicoll that they get together and do what they do well: make some quilts. Only this time the quilts would be for a cause—raising money for the American Red Cross’s Hurricane Katrina relief. They called their group effort Patches for People.
“Gabby came up with the name,” Nicoll says. “It was better than my idea: ‘Give Me Money, I’ll Give You a Quilt!’”
The women immediately organized a “sew-in,” where volunteers were invited to the 4,500-square-foot shop to patch together quilts from fabric donated by Nicoll. Dozens of people showed up in waves throughout the day to help.
“It was so cool!” Dubin-Bullard says. “We had 12 sewing machines going at once.”
Nicoll utilized every pair of hands available. Experienced seamstresses were instructed to stitch together squares or put the backing on finished quilts. Volunteers with little or no sewing know-how were put to work ironing or cutting fabric.
“That was one of my jobs!” says Sarah Pierce, laughing. The 27-year-old Hollywood, Fla., resident and quilting rookie works in Nicoll’s store.
By the end of the day, the group had finished about 15 “crazy patch” quilts made from colorful, irregularly shaped pieces of fabric featuring everything from watermelons and bikinis to baseballs and hot-air balloons.
“We decided to do crazy patches because you can make them from scraps and they look beautiful,” Nicoll says. “They don’t have to be perfect.”
Next, Patches for People took the quilts to the street during a local outdoor art fair and raised $5,300 from sales and donations. The highlight of the day was when a man paid $3,000 for a quilt and donated it back to be sold again.
As it turns out, this was just the beginning for Patches for People, which now has made more than 40 quilts and proudly donated 100 percent of its proceeds—more than $11,000—to the American Red Cross. The group’s latest project is a special commemorative Hurricane Katrina quilt, patterns of which will be sold to raise money for hurricane relief.
As winter creeps in, the group continues to gather for daily sew-ins at Nicoll’s store to make quilts to send directly to victims of Katrina.
“Our goal is to make 12 a week,” Nicoll says. “We are in touch with churches in Louisiana so we can get the quilts directly to people who lost everything. This is even better than raising money! I love the thought of making something for someone that will physically comfort them.”
Certainly, being based in Florida is significant when considering the generosity of this group. All the members have experienced hurricanes many times and know how destructive they can be.
“Our house was hit by lightning last year,” Nicoll says. “We’re still dealing with that. But I didn’t lose my home or my business. I can’t imagine what it would be like to come back and find everything gone.”
Dubin-Bullard agrees. “What happened on the Gulf Coast could just as easily happened to us.”
The women are motivated to continue the project for another reason. “We’re immigrants!” Nicoll says. “I’m from Poland and Gabby is from Germany. We are very grateful for what we have and want to give back.”
It seems that by sewing colorful quilts, these talented women have found a gift for people in need that is both symbolic and practical.
“Families have to patch their lives together and we’re just helping give them a little something along the way,” Dubin-Bullard says. “Doing it with these women makes it more significant somehow.”
How You Can Help
If you’re interested in purchasing one of the pattern kits for a commemorative Katrina quilt, call Sunshine Sewing Co. at (954) 971-4810. All proceeds from the kits go to Katrina relief.
You also can contribute to the ongoing relief efforts for hurricanes Katrina, Rita and Wilma (and other disasters) through the following organizations.
Feed the Children
Habitat for Humanity International
American Red Cross
America’s Second Harvest
The Salvation Army
United Way of America
Humane Society of the United States