MCC photo/Diana Williams

Dennis Diller, a volunteer at the Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa., drives a 12-passenger van filled with comforters created by Old Order Amish families and church districts in southeastern Lancaster.

It is a beautiful spring day as Dennis Diller and I drive on the back roads of southeastern Lancaster County, Pennsylvania. Several trips like these happen weekly in late March and April on roads sometimes unknown by a GPS. As we pull up to the first Old Order Amish house in our 12-passenger van, the family dog and some children too young to be in school greet us. They are expecting Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) visitors as it is comforter pick-up season.

Old Order Amish women from across Pennsylvania enjoy getting together for comforter knotting gatherings. In the winter, at White Horse and Kirkwood meat canning sites in Lancaster County, the women use comforter knotting as an activity to keep their hands busy between cutting and cooking meat. In late winter and early spring, comforter creation serves as a family pastime before the gardening season starts.

Driving on paved roads and gravel drives to farmhouses and homes with machine shops, each stop reveals more and more comforters. The comforters are stored in the basement, in an upstairs room in their barn where they meet for church or in the wagon where they store church benches. Most of them come in black trash bags, but the loose ones we stuff in the smaller spaces in the van.

After four stops, our van is full of more than 150 comforters caringly made by the hands of family and church district members. The comforters range in color from jewel-toned solids to bright fabrics with cupcake prints. MCC’s partners in countries like Jordan, Syria, Ukraine and Iraq will love and appreciate all of them.

“Most of the districts come in here (to the Material Resources Center in Ephrata, Pa.) at some time during the year and we’ve been telling them we need comforters. They’ve responded,” says Leroy Stoltzfus, packing coordinator and Material Resources Center (MRC) assistant. “They always tell me they had so much fun making them.”

Leroy Stoltzfus, packing coordinator and MRC assistant at the MRC in Ephrata, Pa., helps volunteer Dennis Diller unload a van full of comforters.MCC photo/Diana Williams

West Swamp Mennonite Church in Quakertown, Pa., also responded. From March 6-11, they hosted their 12th annual "Why Knot! Week," a week of marathon comforter knotting from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. This year, the church took on the challenge of knotting 300 comforters in honor of their 300th anniversary. (In the past their highest total was 211 comforters over 5 days). In total, they knotted 336 comforters—288 adult and 48 baby—with more than 150 volunteers and 30 churches represented.

"Someone had the idea to drape all the pews with comforters for a picture. It used up less than half of the total to cover everything," says Lynne Rush, West Swamp secretary and "Why Knot! Week" leader. West Swamp photo/Lynne Rush

“Though this started as a church event, it has really grown into a wonderful community event,” says Lynne Rush, West Swamp secretary and "Why Knot! Week" leader. “We get a great mix of first timers and experienced knotters, men and women, old and young, community and church members. The community aspect is as important to us as the work accomplished during the week.”

Leah and Brent Schroeder, staff and advisors for the Bluffton University (Bluffton, Ohio) SERVE Club service trip, work on a comforter at the "Why Knot! Week" event. Fourteen Bluffton students, staff and advisors also volunteered at the event during their spring break. West Swamp photo/Lynne Rush

West Swamp has been sewing since 1944 when they began a ladies’ sewing circle. From helping Mennonite mission schools with sewing projects to raising money through quilting, they started an organized knotting group in the 1980s for the women who did not quilt.

“It's just what we do. The knotting group doesn't just do it one week out of the year. They do it all year long. It's how we put our faith in action. It's how we follow Christ's teachings to take care of others and not just ourselves,” says Rush.

West Swamp Mennonite Church member, Jamie Smith, works on a comforter at the "Why Knot! Week" event.West Swamp photo/Lynne Rush

Sarah Ann Horning, who attends Metzler Mennonite Church in Ephrata, Pa., has been making comforters for almost 20 years. “I feel it is a ministry God gave me as I’m older and have more time,” she says.

She stresses the importance of square patches, straight seams and matching corners when making a comforter. As a volunteer at the MRC in Ephrata, she sews tops, puts backs on the comforters and helps to bind them. When she cannot make it into the MRC, she pieces, knots and finishes comforters at home.

“I pray a blessing over them that the person who receives it would feel the warmth of God’s love,” says Horning.

Norma Miller of Ephrata, Evelyn Sauder of Akron, Lois Sauder of Ephrata and Sarah Ann Horning of Akron work on comforters at the MRC in Ephrata, Pa. Norma has been volunteering at the MRC for 12 years, Evelyn for 2.5 years, Lois for 11 years and Sarah Ann for 10 years. MCC photo/Diana Williams

Approximately 19,000 comforters come from MCC’s East Coast region yearly. However, the need continues to grow. This year, MCC’s partners around the world are requesting 28,000 comforters from our region.

“We are looking at new ways of understanding the true needs for relief supplies from MCC’s partners, especially in response to the current situations in Syria and Ukraine,” says James Wheeler, MRC manager in Ephrata, Pa. “What is surprising is that we are finding the numbers are double the normal amounts for comforter requests.

“We are grateful that there are so many dedicated individuals and sewing circles creating many beautiful and well-constructed comforters that touch the hearts of those who receive them. I have heard many reports where the initial response to these gifts of love is, ‘Why would someone make something so beautiful for me? Why do people from so far away care for me?’”

You can get involved in sewing comforters as well! Visit to learn more about how to make a comforter and where comforters can be dropped off across MCC’s East Coast region.