Helping Illinois children stitch by stitch
"Each one of us has got some adopted grandchildren," she said.
Along with their friend Karen Wallace, the sisters are assembled to work on quilts for an annual auction held by Illinois' Baptist Children's Home and Family Services (BCHFS). The group calls itself Loving Hands.
Today's work isn't focused on quilts for this year's auction -- those 20 are finished. The women are already working on next year's quilts and planning for the baby blankets and prayer shawls they create when they hear of a need.
Grandchildren and great-grandchildren, adopted or not, are the subject of much conversation around the table as the sisters and Wallace share stories and back-to-school photos. Dona Sanders, the youngest sister, has a granddaughter who was adopted through the Children's Home as an infant. She's now a junior in high school.
The Marshall church's quilts have raised tens of thousands of dollars for BCHFS since 2005, when the group created their first one for the agency's annual fall festival auction. Now in its 20th year, the festival is BCHFS's single-largest fundraiser, said Executive Director Denny Hydrick.
The Marshall quilters and other partners across the state enable the ministry of BCHFS, Hydrick said. The agency, which celebrated its centennial last year, receives no state or federal funding and is supported by donor individuals and churches.
"Each church probably has its own story," Hydrick said, "but from my perspective, partnerships are so intertwined with the ministry, you just can't exist without them."
All in the family
Organizers estimate this year's auction will have between 60 and 80 quilts, with at least a quarter of those created by Loving Hands, the ministry that started 25 years ago out of Marshall's "old lady class," as Siverly called it.
"Wait a minute, don't put that in there," Wallace said. "Just put 'mature class.'"
"This is the last class you go to before you get promoted," said Shirley Shumaker, another sister. Promoted as in heaven.
As they work, the quilters speak often of Carolyn Siverly, Alberta's sister-in-law who passed away in May. And Martha Garner, their oldest sister, who will turn 90 in October. After a recent fall, she's in a nursing facility.
Draped over a chair next to their work table is the last quilt Carolyn worked on. "I had to finish it for her," Alberta said.
The women agree Carolyn was born with a talent for colors and fabrics. "She could throw in an odd block that you wouldn't think would even belong in that quilt, but it looked right," Wallace said. Wallace is the group's newest recruit, but she lived down the street from the sisters when they were young.
As Wallace sews and the sisters look over patterns and swatches, the women discuss patterns, blocks, batting and backing.
"We love to talk quilts," Siverly said. "My husband, before he passed away, he said, 'Alberta, you're going to turn into a quilt.'"
The sisters and Wallace hold several different conversations across the table, often finishing each other's sentences. "Eat, sleep, and drink quilts," one said. Across the room: "And then repeat."
A new generation
Two hours south of Marshall, Susan Shilling works on a quilt with a group of brand-new sewers. Shilling, who has helped lead the quilt auction for BCHFS for 10 years or more, is teaching the ins and outs of quilting to junior high girls at her church, First Baptist in Grayville.
"They're real beginners," Shilling said. "Two of the girls had never touched a sewing machine." She plans to do the actual quilting for their creation, but she's been careful to let them sew together the pieces of the quilt top. "If they have a boo-boo, they have to pick it out themselves and fix it. I want to be able to say the girls made the quilt."
Shilling marvels at what Loving Hands accomplishes each year. "I just can't imagine how they get all those quilts made," she said.
When she drove to Marshall to pick up this year's quilts, she saw the file cabinet in the Sunday school classroom, already full of projects for next year's auction.
The quilts sold this year will benefit the four main ministries of BCHFS -- residential care at the Children's Home in Carmi, Ill.; care for new and expecting mothers at Angels' Cove Maternity Center in Mt. Vernon; adoption services; and counseling offered at Pathways centers around the state.
In addition to those initiatives, Hydrick said BCHFS is also pursuing a new avenue of ministry -- a crisis pregnancy clinic. The new opportunity is in response to Illinois' new abortion laws, which repealed several longstanding restrictions on the practice. The clinic would provide pregnancy testing and ultrasounds, as well as counseling for women as they make decisions.
"In our 100 years of history, the ministry has always adapted to meet more contemporary needs," Hydrick said. Since the first sibling group of four came to live at the Carmi campus, a century of ministry has been made possible by the benevolence of donors and giving churches.
In Marshall, the Loving Hands quilters are considering a future trip to Illinois Amish country to look at material and get ideas for upcoming projects. Youngest sister Dona will likely drive, because she has a van. They'll continue to meet on Wednesdays working on quilts for people in need, now and in the future.
"Eat, sleep, and drink quilts."
"And then repeat."