Karen Kreider Yoder surrounded by comforters that she has since donated to MCC in honor of 60th birthday
Photo/Audra Miller

At Karen Kreider Yoder’s home, she is surrounded by comforters that she has since donated to MCC in honor of her 60th birthday. Yoder and her friends, family and acquaintances worked together to made 60 comforters, plus a bonus five, for Yoder’s special day. MCC sends comforters around the world to people who are suffering from war or disaster.

As Karen Kreider Yoder contemplated turning 60, she decided she wanted to do something “big” to help herself come to terms with entering the new decade.

The quilter from San Francisco turned to her love of fabric and pieced together a project that not only helped her own adjustment but supported people in need and inspired her family and friends.

Four months before her Oct. 18 birthday, Yoder set out to make 60 comforters – one for each year of her life – and donate them to West Coast Mennonite Central Committee (MCC). As a long-time supporter, she knew MCC distributed comforters to people around the world, often to those who have been forced from their homes by violence or disasters.

“In the last few months, there has been an increase in violence in our world. This experience has helped me think often about how I can respond,” she said. “This is a tangible way to lend a hand of peace. We all need beauty in our lives. These people receiving these comforters will receive not only warmth, but beauty.”

She invited her family and friends, near and far, to help her meet the goal. Her three sisters, a niece, colleagues, church members and other friends sewed colorful squares of scrap fabric together to make twin comforter tops, 60 by 80 inches. Yoder made 22 of her own.

Rosanna Kauffmann and Steve Kreider Yoder knot a comforter at First Mennonite Church of San Francisco’s church retreat.Photo/Russ Schmidt

The pieced top is placed on top of the batting (the warm middle layer) and a flat sheet. Then the three-layer “sandwich” is fastened into a frame and hand-knotted together with thick thread. The last step is to bind the edges.

Sixty comforters require a lot of fabric, but that was the least of Yoder’s challenges.

“There was an outpouring of fabric,” she said. People donated so much fabric that, even though she used her own supply for the project, she ended up with more fabric than she had when she started.

More than 100 people helped with the project, including those who were far away and newbies to comforter knotting.

When Yoder visited her family in North Newton, Kansas, experienced comforter makers from her mother’s church, Faith Mennonite Church, helped her family and friends knot comforters at MCC Central States Material Resource Center. She came home with eight comforters.

At First Mennonite Church of San Francisco’s fall retreat, this team of Kenda Horst, Russ Schmidt, Laura Hassel, Steve Kreider Yoder and Meg Short won the comforter tying competition by finishing one in 46 minutes. Nine comforters were completed at the retreat.Photo courtesy of Russ Schmidt

At a retreat for First Mennonite Church of San Francisco, where Yoder is a member, 40 men, women and children learned to tie comforter knots for the first time. After they learned, Yoder organized a knotting contest with three teams of four people, including one new learner, plus a person to thread the needles. The winning team knotted their comforter in 46 minutes, the second in 49 and the third in 51.

On Oct. 18, Yoder finished the last comforter – not just 60, but 65 gifts of love.

“This experience has generated a great conversation with the people who have helped,” Yoder said. “They talk about what is on the news. People are thinking about the people who these comforters are going to help,” Yoder said.

Karen Kreider Yoder and Pauline Aguilar share a laugh as they pack all 65 comforters that Yoder donated at West Coast MCC’s Reedley office to be sent for distribution.Photo/Steve Kreider Yoder

Yoder’s family has a long-standing connection with MCC, starting with her parents, Robert and Lois Kreider, who served in Berlin after World War II. Her mother was in charge of feeding 3,000 children, and her father helped provide relief to Russian refugees. When Yoder’s parents returned to the U.S, her mother was instrumental in establishing more than 100 MCC thrift and fair trade shops in the U.S. and Canada and her father served on the Executive Committee for MCC

The comforter project has inspired participants to help MCC in other ways. Her niece made 40 hygiene kits. A pastor in Ohio said she was going to make 60 comforters.

“I think this type of project could be a great idea for a congregation to celebrate a 50th anniversary,” Yoder said. “I am hoping to inspire others to give.”