When the students in Amy Deschweinitz's family and consumer science class hit the sewing machines, they have two goals. One is to produce small, patchwork quilts. The other is to comfort hurting children.
Deschweinitz has six Fox Chapel Middle School eighth-grade classes working on dozens of quilts that will be sent to St. Jude Children's Research Hospital in Memphis. The goal is to complete 50 quilts. Last semester's students sent their quilts to St. Joseph's Children's Hospital in Tampa.
The quilts are required to be made in pet-free, allergy-free facilities (the classroom qualifies) and wrapped separately. The students pack theirs in plastic freezer bags.
Deschweinitz needed lots of fabric for this project. Some was donated by students' family members, and some she found on sale for $1 a yard. She welcomes any fabric donations and could use sewing machines, too.
Deschweinitz wants her students to learn more than sewing. "I like it because we try to get the kids … to be givers," she said.
This is only one of the class projects.
"We also do catering, make cookies for teachers' birthdays and deliver them." She said she tries to run the class like a business "to teach them business skills and responsibilities and ownership of what they do."
The students write notes to the children who will receive the blankets. The messages are packed in the boxes along with the quilts.
Deschweinitz started this before she took over the family and consumer science class three years ago. While she was an English teacher, she knitted and donated hats.
In the past two years, her family and consumer science classes have crocheted blankets for two other organizations, including Project Linus. Based in Illinois, it distributes blankets to ill or traumatized children. Another time, the students made teddy bears for a hospice group.
Kaitlynn Hedden, 14, was working on a pink and blue quilt last week.
"I like the idea that we're sending things to children, that someone cares about them," she said. She helped make the teddy bears and likes making things to give as gifts.
Nick Balister, 14, likes the idea of giving away what they make, too.
"I think it's good just to, like, care." There is the obvious benefit, also, of learning how to sew a quilt.
Katrina Cook, 15, said she is glad to have made something "warm and cuddly." She wants the young recipients to be able to say, " 'Kids made this for me' and be proud of it."
She said the project is a good idea.
"It means a lot. If I were in the hospital, I'd want something like this."
Paulette Lash Ritchie can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.