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Sooke quilters sewing warm welcome for Ukrainian refugees

Community sets goal of 100 quilts for incoming families fleeing war
From left, Sunflower Quilt Project members Bridget Ducker, Dolores Dowler and Mary-Ann Tennent at the Artisan’s Garden in Sooke with a collection of collected quilts. The trio started the project in March to stockpile quilts for incoming Ukrainian refugees and have already amassed more than 60 quilts. (Kevin Laird/News Staff)

A team of at least 15 seasoned quilters has stitched together to sew 100 quilts for a local initiative that will house and support Ukrainian refugees.

What started for Sooke resident Mary-Ann Tennent as creating 12 quilts for prospective refugee families with fellow quilters Dolores Dowler and Bridget Ducker, quickly turned into a communal mission to produce 100 quilts.

“I was getting more upset every day,” Tennent said, recalling the initial reports from the war in Ukraine.

Learning about the Ukrainian Safe Haven Association in East Sooke, a former resort being repurposed by its Ukrainian owners to accommodate as many as 100 people fleeing the war in their home country, she saw an opportunity to help.

RELATED READ: Ukrainian refugee’s long, cold trek away from war ends in B.C.

So, “instead of hiding under blankets,” Tennent and her husband Gary emailed fellow quilters in Sooke on March 20 to ask for donations. They specified that, while any design was great, scrap fabric styles would be “extra lovely” because of the memories attached to them and baby, kid and comfort quilts were prime snuggling size. “I think everyone wants to help but they don’t know how,” she said. “I think when you help someone else, that also helps you.”

Threading the first needles alongside devoted companions Dowler and Ducker, who also reached out to their quilter circles, Tennent received 20 quilts in just two days for her new Sunflower Quilt Project.

“Many hands make light work,” she said, adding that it’s great whenever they find new people who can contribute.

Appealing to those who lacked the time or skill to sew their own quilts, Tennent also requested flimsies – quilt tops that lack backing – along with financial contributions.

With upwards of 60 quilts and eight handmade Afghans contributed so far – including 18 from Tennent, Dowler and Ducker – Tennent said every quilt is a warm hug. One avid quilter also approached Tennent about doing the binding, which can take at least two hours per quilt.

“She said, ‘I like binding.’ I said, ‘You’re my new best friend,’” Tennent recalled.

The project attracted quilters from outside Sooke as well, including one woman who brought two quilts on her flight from Revelstoke, after hearing about the initiative.

Originally aiming to deliver the quilts by the end of April, the quilters have extended their deadline amid delays in the refugees’ arrival in East Sooke.

“These people are leaving everything,” Tennent said, adding that quilts have histories just like they do.

In an email, Sharon Holowaychuk of the Ukrainian Safe Haven Association said she and her husband Brian will receive all the beautiful quilts once they can allocate a safe place to store them on the East Sooke property. The association is eager to see its new guests.

ALSO READ: 103-year-old Oak Bay veteran hopes for surge of donations to help children of Ukraine

The Artisan’s Garden in Sooke is serving as the drop-off spot for quilts awaiting their future Ukrainian owners.

“It’s nice to be involved with this,” said general manager Mackenzie Fisher, noting the garden’s minor-yet-important role in the initiative.

Bouledogue Quilt Co., also in Sooke, is helping organize the quilts before they head to the Ukrainian Safe Haven Association.

“It’s been pretty awesome,” owner Lisa Hallsworth remarked.

Two other groups have been quilting for the project, Cardinal Quilts and Otter B Quilting.

“It just warms my heart to be able to help,” said Cardinal Quilts owner Bernadine Libreiro, who has contributed nine quilts herself for the cause. She added that she hopes their efforts can make the refugees “feel at home in a strange place.”


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A personalized tag sewn into a quilt. Every quilt contributed to the Sunflower Quilt Project bears a unique tag for its prospective Ukrainian owner. (Kevin Laird/News Staff)