When Mary Gilbert turned 69 last year, she started thinking about what she could do over the next year to mark her 70th birthday.
About that time she came across an article about Karen Kreider Yoder from San Francisco who commemorated her 60th birthday by making 60 comforters for MCC. Gilbert enjoyed sewing and making things from scrap material, so she decided to see if she could do something similar – 70 comforters for her 70th birthday.
“It was the inspiration from Karen and being aware of the refugee crisis,” she said. “I wanted to make a little bit of a difference when I can’t go to those places myself.”
So Gilbert started sorting through material in her storage room and put out the word to some of her friends about her goal. Several people volunteered to help with the stitching or gave her material.
“Some of my sisters have been in the prayer shawl ministry and put their prayers into knitting and crocheting,” she said. “My prayers go into my stitches. I wonder where they will go and who they will reach.”
Kreider and Gilbert actually met one another in April of last year, soon after Gilbert embarked on her project. They swapped pictures of their current projects and even put some stitches in a comforter together.
“I would encourage people to try one or two,” said Gilbert. “Look around at what you have.” She made most of her comforters from scraps of material, a skill she saw her grandmother utilize in making her first quilt from a flour sack and dress scraps. “I try to make them as beautiful as possible, because the people receiving them may have so little beauty in their lives.”
Many of the people who receive MCC comforters have been displaced from their homes. Receiving a comforter that has been hand-sewn by volunteers in the United States and Canada, like Gilbert, sends a tangible message that people have not forgotten them. The comforters provide not only warmth, but bring hope and comfort to people in difficult circumstances.
“Love is not real unless it’s felt; it’s touchable,” reflected Gilbert. “Being part of the physical world is the only way to convey the spiritual world. If they don’t connect, it’s meaningless.”
Having retired from her role as youth services librarian at the Middlebury Community Public Library in 2012, Gilbert has been involved with sewing bags for MCC school kits, volunteering in the quilt room at The Depot once a month and participating in the annual MCC Great Lakes Comforter Bash. She also participated in Intermenno in the Netherlands in the early 70s and did a three-month MCC service term in Indonesia in 1988 cataloging books at the library at the Yogyakarta Seminary.
At her congregation, Assembly Mennonite Church in Goshen, Ind., Gilbert and Lois Kaufmann led children’s time during advent where they talked about the creativity that goes into quilts and comforters. The children had the opportunity to put knots in a comforter during the Christmas Eve service.
Gilbert surpassed her goal and delivered the 75th top to the MCC Materials Resource Center at The Depot in Goshen in March.
“The world is so needy and we can do so little as individuals,” said Gilbert. “But I’m grateful that MCC provides a way for each of us to contribute in our small ways to healing and hope around the globe.”