Anni Callaghan gathers with more than 25 quilters every Tuesday, dutifully cutting, sewing, chatting and eating.
The group meets at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Tarpon Springs to make colorful, comforting quilts for children in need. The quilters have formed a camaraderie — some come just for a day, others come every Tuesday rain or shine, and not all of them belong to the church, said Callaghan, a retired teacher and social worker who lives in New Port Richey.
The group started with just a couple of women learning to quilt and word spread. "It just got bigger and bigger," Callaghan said.
They chat, listen to music, enjoy a potluck lunch and take part in the mission of helping homeless children in Pasco and Pinellas counties.
"It's part of living your faith. That's what it boils down to," said Callaghan. "All human beings are created equal. That is part of the Unitarian Universalist doctrine. We believe in the inherent dignity of every human being in the world."
Kathy Stevens loves quilting but had stopped for a while because she didn't have a motivation. "This gave me a great reason," she said.
"I think it's probably true of most religious people — they want to do something for the less fortunate," explained Stevens, who serves as president of the church's board of directors. "I was raised to believe I was given talents by God that should be shared."
In addition to helping the children, the quilting group gives purpose and companionship to the women.
Members invited Quimby Heotzler of Holiday to play the piano while they work and have lunch with them. Her mother, who is 102, comes with her caregiver and helps set the table and clean up afterward. Some aren't necessarily religious, but they like the mission of the group.
"The program really attracts people for lots of reasons," Stevens said. "It's about putting faith into action, living your faith. I do think that's an important thing."
They focus mainly on providing warmth to the homeless children, reaching out through organizations such as the Volunteer Way, Harbinger House and Gulf Coast Jewish Family Services in Pasco, and the Shepherd Center in Tarpon Springs.
They figure they have made more than 1,000 quilts since they began two years ago, though they don't keep exact numbers.
The quilts are created mostly from donated fabric and are large enough to fit twin-sized beds and cribs for children and babies. The colorful quilts are adorned with cowboys, animals and sometimes Disney characters — whatever fabric they receive is what they use.
Each quilt also comes in a handmade drawstring pouch so the child can carry it.
"They are so beautiful. People appreciate them so much," said Martha O'Brien, assistant chief executive officer with the Volunteer Way food bank in New Port Richey. Her organization has received 219 quilts.
"People are already asking for the quilts," O'Brien said. "Word of mouth is very powerful there. It's a nice gift. We really appreciate what they are doing. We give them to the people who really, really need them. Kids that don't have houses, they've lost almost everything. The Volunteer Way appreciates all that they are doing."
Angela Littlefield, manager of Gulf Coast Community Care in Hudson, a shelter for women and children, gushes when she talks about the quilts.
"It's nice to be able to give these blankets to the children," said Littlefield, "It's their blanket. It makes it feel more like home."
The children who come to the shelter are usually shy at first, Littlefield said, but "they grab right on to the blankets and squeeze them. They're colorful, they're soft, they're really great."
Last November, Callaghan and a few other women traveled to Ethiopia to deliver handmade quilts to children there. They each paid their own way, staying at a house of a local resident and visiting an orphanage with 450 children.
"We made sure that every child had a quilt. It was a very good experience," she said. Callaghan would like to return again but said the cost is prohibitive.
The group relies on all the members, but Flora Rodriguez is considered the backbone. She takes the quilts home and finishes them on her sewing machine, a step that most people don't like to do.
"I enjoy it and I have the time and it's a worthwhile cause," said Rodriguez, who lives in New Port Richey. "It's a fun group. I don't like to take so much credit. Everyone is important."
Stevens said the gathering is as much about helping others as enjoying each other's company.
"We have so much fun making those quilts," she said. "No matter what else is happening on a Tuesday, we don't miss it."
"Faith In Motion" is a series of features about an individual or group doing something inspiring in the course of a spiritual journey. Ideas are welcomed, via e-mail. Send them to [email protected]