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Blanketed with love

A sewing group meets monthly to make quilts for at-risk babies at area hospitals.

© St. Petersburg Times
published April 12, 2002

Some babies are born with two strikes against them. They come into the world HIV positive, AIDS infected, alcohol or drug affected or abandoned.

They start with nothing, but leave area hospitals with something of their very own.

For the last 12 years, volunteers have been comforting local at-risk children with a soft, warm, handmade quilt as part of the national, non-profit ABC Quilts Project.

"I feel I make a little difference in the life of a child," says Joyce Suarez, southeast zone coordinator for the organization. She first read about ABC Quilts 12 years ago and has volunteered her quilting expertise ever since.

The first Friday of each month, between 10 and 15 volunteers gather at the Quilted Sampler, 4109 S MacDill Ave. The quilting supply shop serves as a drop-off point for completed blankets, and the store takes donations of fabric, batting and other materials and donates the use of a classroom.

"We feel it's a way to give back to the community," says shop owner Adrienne Tavares.

Volunteers spend the day sewing at the shop or preparing kits for assembly at home. The kits contain sewing directions for the 36-inch by 36-inch crib-size quilts, fabric squares for the top and a single back piece. Quilters provide their own cotton batting.

Some use their own, more elaborate patterns. The baby blankets are tied, machine or hand quilted together.

The colorful quilts are delivered to neo-natal nurseries and pediatric units in Hillsborough and Pinellas county hospitals or to the Department of Children and Families. Nurses or case managers give the quilts to deserving newborns or children up to age 6. On average, volunteers stitch together 50 to 60 quilts a month.

"These quilts are a (child's) connection to people who love them no matter what," says Jan Tseronis, volunteer and local coordinator.

Nationally, more than 390,000 quilts have been given to children since the ABC Quilts project began in 1998.

"The children touch you so deeply," says Suarez. Her involvement in the non-profit organization keeps her focused on the important things in life, she says. She has four grandchildren of her own.

Sometimes toddlers bring their quilts with them to the hospital when they return for check-ups or treatments, nurses tell the quiltmakers.

Those stories motivate volunteers and keep them stitching away.

-- For information on the ABC Quilts Project, contact the Quilted Sampler at (813) 831-8997.

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