Comforters, Corrections and Compassion

Material Resources connects northern Albertans to Zambia

a series of bunk beds with MCC quilts as their bedding

Header image: a row of bunk beds in a Zambian correctional facility are outfitted by comforters provided by MCC Material Resources donors. Photo courtesy of Zambia Correctional Services.

It’s a hot day in Kabwe, Zambia as we walk through the gates of the Men’s Maximum-Security Prison. We’re here to learn how MCC’s Material Resources program intersects with this and the other 68 Zambian Correctional Facilities across the country. The men who live here are serving sentences of 40 years to life. 

As we walk into one of the bunk rooms, there’s hardly room to move. 16 triple bunk beds lining the cinder block room, plus one camp bed set up at the end means that 49 men live in this space. Currently the weekly soccer game is going full tilt on the recreation ground outside. Just one man is snoring on his bunk. On the surface this could be a dismal scene, but for the handmade comforters draped over the beds. There are bright colours, floral and plaid fabrics. There’s a comforter that’s machine quilted – that could be one from the Plum Coulee warehouse. Another is made from pillow panels featuring puppies and kittens – I know I’ve seen that fabric before. Next to it is a comforter with a mottled purple flannel back. I check the stitching – multiple zigzag stitching fastens the backing to the top. I feel the weight – there’s an extra sheet in there! It’s an Alberta comforter for sure – specifically from the La Crete area.

I don’t think I stopped smiling for the rest of the day.

a woman posing with an MCC quilt
Linda holds a quilt she found at a Sommerfeld Mennonite Church in northern Alberta, which matches the design of a comforter she found in a Zambian correctional facility. 
MCC Photo/Donita Wiebe-Neufeld

Three weeks later I’m standing in the Sunday School hall of one of the Sommerfeld Mennonite Churches in the La Crete area. The ladies there are showing me some of the comforters they make – and it’s the same mottled, purple flannel fabric on the back. The stitching around the edge is a multiple zigzag, and there’s a sheet inside for extra warmth! It’s amazing!! I told the ladies about my recent trip to Zambia and how I’d seen a comforter with this same fabric, with this exact technique, on a bed, in a prison, in a country on the other side of the world.  

It's wonderful to see Material Resources kits being used by recipients. What volunteers and donors do here in Alberta makes a difference. On this trip to Zambia, we heard repeatedly how thankful people were for the gifts of comforters, towels, nail clippers and especially soap. Relief Kit buckets were being used to store water and School Kit notebooks were being used in classrooms. They were surprised to hear that the comforters are made by hand, not purchased in a store.  

When Material Resource items reach recipients, it’s seen as a gift. The kits and comforters are meeting not only physical needs, but people’s heart needs as well. The items are reminders that they are seen, remembered, cared for, blessed, and loved by people here in North America. It’s a hands-on way to express God’s love and compassion for all, ‘In the Name of Christ.’