In a quiet Leesburg library on a recent November afternoon, a small group of teenage volunteers carefully folded stacks of brightly colored quilts, meticulously stitched and donated by quilters from Loudoun County and beyond with hopes of comforting cancer patients and survivors.
The quilt drive was organized by Purcellville business owner Carly Mul and Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, a Leesburg-based nonprofit organization that helps ailing, disabled and elderly adults maintain independence and quality of life. The initiative was organized this year to warm the bodies and lift the spirits of people who are facing or recovering from a life-threatening illness in Loudoun.
“This was a very special project, because a lot of the quilters themselves are going through treatment, or have gone through treatment, or have buried someone they love due to cancer,” said Mul, who owns Web Fabrics, a quilting and fabric store.
Mul said she was struck with the idea to organize the quilt donation drive last year after reading a CNN story about Richard Nares, a grieving father in California who lost his 3-year-old son, Emilio, to leukemia. Nares, who understood the demands of taking a child to the hospital for frequent appointments, created a transportation service called Ride With Emilio to help parents take their children to and from chemotherapy appointments.
Mul said she was touched by the story and inspired to help cancer patients in a different way. Her father had battled cancer, and she remembered how he had often felt cold when he was away from home or traveling to doctor’s appointments.
“I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice to make quilts for people who are going through this?’ I wanted this to be a community support for cancer patients who are cold and struggling,” she said.
She contacted Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers this year and spoke to the organization’s executive director, Susan Mandel Giblin, who was immediately enthusiastic.
“We help a lot of people with cancer,” Giblin said. “Some of them are going through chemotherapy and radiation; some are cancer survivors. So we loved the idea and told her yes, we’d love the help.”
Most people know that pink is the color associated with breast cancer awareness, Giblin said, but are less familiar with the particular colors designated for other forms of cancer, such as orange for kidney cancer or light blue for prostate cancer. The blankets, Mul promised, would be made with a wide range of colors, personalized for each patient.
Mul started assembling quilting kits in her Purcellville store, using fabric remnants that would otherwise be thrown away. The kits were sold for $29.99; the money is promptly refunded when the buyer returns with a finished quilt, she said.
Through her business’s Facebook page and an online newsletter that reaches more than 15,000 quilters around the world, Mul said word about the quilt donation drive spread fast, and the response was strong. Most participants were from the Loudoun area, but some blankets were sent in from across the country, she said.
Nearly 200 quilts have been made, Mul said, far more than Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers currently needs. The program now has about 30 clients undergoing cancer care, Giblin said. New clients join the program regularly.
Over the summer, Mul delivered a first batch of more than 70 quilts to Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers, Giblin said.
“They are exquisite,” Giblin said. “They are so touching.”
As cool autumn weather settled in, a group of student volunteers from across Loudoun gathered at Rust Library in Leesburg on Nov. 3 to wrap the quilts and help deliver them, Giblin said.
“They really seem to have loved the experience,” Giblin said of the young volunteers. “We definitely hope to do this again.”
The group is planning a second distribution in the coming months, Giblin said.
For the volunteers who made the coverings, Mul said, the act of quilting for a cause was deeply meaningful, and even therapeutic.
“A lot of the people made a quilt in honor of someone they love, as a way to grieve,” Mul said. “One woman made a quilt colored for prostate cancer, because her father died of prostate cancer.”
The handmade coverings also resonated deeply with many who received the quilts, Giblin said.
“I just want to say thank you for the beautiful Cancer Survivors quilt,” one recipient wrote in a letter to Loudoun Volunteer Caregivers. “Your ongoing kindness and support to me is so appreciated. I no longer feel so alone and isolated.”
Mul said she hopes that the quilt donation drive might inspire other businesses and nonprofit organizations in neighboring areas to launch similar efforts.
“I wouldn’t mind if this spread to other counties,” she said. “If everyone would help, this is such a wonderful way to take care of the community.”