They’ve touched the lives of hundreds of South Carolinians, yet few people have heard of them.
Three times a month, a small band of women from Socastee United Methodist Church congregate to pursue a shared mission of faith. Together, they laugh, tell stories and occasionally critique each other’s sewing skills.
They are the SUMC Stitchers, and their calling is to use their skills with cloth, needle and thread to share God’s love. Over the last four years, they’ve made hundreds of handmade quilts for sick and injured children and terminally ill hospital patients.
Most will never know the names behind the needles, but that’s not the group’s motivation.
“This is a way we are acting as loving Christians,” says Kathy Richard, a founding member. “We just feel that some child, some person will get some comfort through what we’re doing. It’s very satisfying.”
The group’s roots trace back more than a dozen years when a few women from the church started meeting to sew. They worked on projects for the church and volunteered their skills for church members – making quilts and offering low-cost alterations.
Eventually, the group – which now includes 6-8 regulars – decided to expand their charity. They began making quilts for children at Shriner’s Hospital for Children – Greenville. Every few months, they send a stack of about two dozen colorful cotton quilts with a church member who volunteers to drive local patients to the hospital for appointments.
They also make small drawstring bags for children battling cancer at MUSC Children’s Hospital in Charleston. The children use them to hold the beads they’re given for every X-ray, blood draw and other procedure they undergo. And most recently, SUMC Stitchers began donating quilts – all blessed by church Pastor Kurt McPherson – to Tidelands Waccamaw Community Hospital for terminally ill patients.
“We feel like we stitch with love because we know they will go to children and adults that are hurting,” Richard says. “That’s our way of saying we want to help a little bit. We just love doing it.”
As their work has expanded, so, too, has their need for space. A respectable portion of the church’s parsonage has been converted into a makeshift supply depot and workspace.
It’s through strong support from their fellow parishioners that the SUMC Stitchers can accomplish so much. The majority of materials members use are donated by downsizing church members or widowers. The group also periodically sells a few quilts to purchase batting, the fluffy material sandwiched inside the quilt to offer softness and warmth.
Over the years, Richard estimates the group has donated close to 300 quilts, each of which takes 8-10 hours to produce, and about 100 bead bags.
At Tidelands Waccamaw, the quilts are reserved for patients expected to spend their final days at the hospital, including people who have chosen to stop fighting a terminal illness and instead spend the time with family and friends.
“It adds an extra layer of comfort and support for them,” says Jonella Davis, clinical director of 3 East at the hospital. “And for their families, the quilts can become a cherished way to remember their loved one.”
Kristi Jones, a nurse on 3 East, brought up the idea of the quilts as a way to broaden the emotional and spiritual support the hospital offers to terminally ill patients. She had seen firsthand the impact it can have on a patient when her grandmother died at a hospital in Kentucky.
“When someone decides to choose comfort care, it can be the loneliest feeling,” she says. “You question yourself – it’s just a sad moment.”
But when a nurse laid on her grandmother a quilt made by volunteers from a local church, there was an immediate change in her grandmother’s outlook, Jones said.
“You could see it in her eyes – she had such peace over her,” Jones says. “Just knowing that people had prayed over the quilt and it was blessed, it made that journey so much better.”
When Jones reached out to the SUMC Stitchers through Pastor McPherson, the group quickly agreed to help.
For the group’s members, coming together to make the quilts is a reward unto itself. Sure, they sometimes nitpick each other over wavy seams, but it’s all in good fun.
“We’re like a bunch of sisters,” Richard says. “We all love each other. Doing this together makes it really easy to be friends.”