Local women make quilts for Puerto Rico as the recovery there continues

By on February 11, 2019
Teresa Schreiber Werth shows the quilt chosen by this gentleman and made in Spencerport.

Teresa Schreiber Werth shows the quilt chosen by this gentleman and made in Spencerport.

by Teresa Schreiber Werth

Fifteen months after most natural disasters, they have vanished from the headlines, the public has forgotten and moved on. This is not the case with a local humanitarian relief effort, Puerto Rico – One Box at a Time. In November 2018, 14 months after Hurricane Maria, the project’s founder, Spencerport resident Maria Delgado Sutton, still had donated school supplies, food and personal care items collected at Trinity Emmanuel Lutheran Church in Gates. She had 150 new t-shirts donated by the Rochester Locust Club. All of this was in addition to the 333 boxes she had already mailed. And she had already sent 15 handmade quilts sewn and donated by a small group of women in Spencerport and they gave her 15 more.

The colorful quilts were part of an ongoing effort undertaken by four Spencerport sisters, daughters of the late George and Rita Wegman. The women started making quilts in 2005. They don’t know exactly how many they have made, but they’re certain it is over 1,000. The quilts have been donated many different places, wherever someone tells them there is a need, says Jean Wegman Blasioli of Spencerport. They have been donated to Sister Grace and The House of Mercy in Rochester, to two special education classes in Rochester City School District, and to the Red Cross which has distributed them in the Batavia Veterans’ Hospital. Some of the quilts went to Mississippi after Hurricane Katrina and to other places that have experienced natural disasters. “We usually have some kind of personal connection to one of us. Someone lets us know there is a need,” says Blasioli. Some of the quilts have gone to the southern tier through the Diocese of Rochester, and more recently quilts were given to refugees at St. Mary’s Place in the city.

Most of the work takes place at the home of Rita Wegman Ezrow (Gates), who founded the group project and does most of the sewing. Blasioli helps cut the squares, lay them out and supplies some of the batting. Sisters Mary Wegman Zarpentine (Spencerport) and Anne Wegman Paluskiewicz (Greece) often donate fabric and batting.

The women fund everything themselves. They began making them because they had an abundance of fabric and there was always a need someplace. The small quilts, like some of the ones taken by Delgado Sutton to Puerto Rico, take four to six hours to make. The larger ones take longer. They are basically fabric squares arranged in creative patterns. Some are themed with flowers, animals, seasons, or characters. Some are bright and others are more subdued. They are all soft with batting filling and each one brings a unique kind of comfort to its’ owner.

“People just keep giving us fabric,” says Blasioli. “It’s like loaves and fishes! We have never had to ask anyone for fabric. It just keeps coming! People tells us they were cleaning out their mom’s house or found a stash of their own they had forgotten about. In fact, sometimes, we have to declare a moratorium on ourselves! It’s hard to pass up a good sale at JoAnn’s!”

Delgado Sutton knew from her family in Puerto Rico that 14 months after the hurricane, there were still many people in need in the mountainous areas outside of San Juan. It was then that she decided, together with her volunteer friend, Teresa Schreiber Werth, to make the trip to the storm ravaged island at their own expense and deliver the quilts and other donated items.

Before they left, half of the t-shirts were taken to another hurricane relief effort in North Carolina by Werth’s sister. The rest of the shirts, along with all of the remaining donations, were packed into four large suitcases, each weighing 50 lbs. They applied for, and were granted, a waiver of baggage fees by Jet Blue Airlines, and on November 29, Delgado Sutton and Werth flew to Puerto Rico.

The women met with the pastors and volunteer missionaries from two churches in Yabucoa, who had helped deliver more than 300 boxes of donated supplies over 15 months. They expressed their gratitude for the many strangers in the United States who had reached out to them through the One Box at a Time effort.

Delgado Sutton and Werth visited Andres Sandin Martinez, located in the barrio of Aguacate, a public school in Yabucoa, now serving 800 additional students (with the same staff and facilities) because so many of the small schools have closed. The kindergarten class they met has 30 students and one teacher. Each student received a bag with an activity book, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste, pencil and candy. With the class circled around her feet, Werth read her book, Goodnight Spencerport to them as Delgado Sutton translated it into Spanish and explained the role of the Erie Canal in New York state history.

And finally, they delivered the precious quilts to a small home for the elderly in Yabucoa. Prior to going there, Delgado Sutton, who is a nurse, was advised not to touch the residents. Since the hurricane, some elderly people in such homes had contracted an unidentified rash. But once Delgado Sutton entered the home carrying the quilts and saw the residents’ faces light up as they chose the colors and patterns they liked, she couldn’t resist “touching and holding each and every frail hand.” One woman crawled back in bed and joyously asked Delgado Sutton to spread a quilt on top of her. Their smiles and gratitude belied the starkness of their condition.

Once she was back in Spencerport, Werth shared pictures of the quilt distribution with Blasioli, who said that in all the years they have been making the quilts, this was the first time they saw the faces of those who received them and it was a very special treat.

What began with the heartache of a woman on Colby Street in Spencerport watching a hurricane devastate her homeland of Puerto Rico, culminated with warm embraces and happy faces of some of those she was able to help. The Spencerport and greater Rochester communities have enthusiastically embraced her efforts for over a year. Bellies have been filled, faith in humankind has been restored, ripples of love and compassion have been felt thousands of miles away. “Recovery is a long way off for Puerto Rico,” says Delgado Sutton. “I’m not sure our tiny island will ever be the same, but Puerto Ricans are humble and strong and resilient and they will survive. More importantly, everyone who was a part of Puerto Rico – One Box at a Time played a part in moving Puerto Rico in that direction.”

Provided photos

Maria Delgado Sutton covers one of the residents with the quilt she chose in the home for the elderly in Puerto Rico.

Maria Delgado Sutton covers one of the residents with the quilt she chose in the home for the elderly in Puerto Rico.

 

Maria Delgado Sutton (left) and Teresa Schreiber Werth arrive at a home for the elderly in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, delivering quilts made by the Wegman sisters.

Maria Delgado Sutton (left) and Teresa Schreiber Werth arrive at a home for the elderly in Yabucoa, Puerto Rico, delivering quilts made by the Wegman sisters.

 

The Wegman sisters working together to create unique quilts to give away.

The Wegman sisters working together to create unique quilts to give away.

 

Rita Ezrow shows one of more than 1,000 quilts she and her three sisters have made and given away to those who need them.

Rita Ezrow shows one of more than 1,000 quilts she and her three sisters have made and given away to those who need them.

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