SHERIDAN — You hear the quilters of Trinity Lutheran Church before you see them, before you’ve descended the stairs to the church basement. You hear pieces of conversation, favorite old stories and lots of laughter. Laughter most of all.

If you ask the ladies how long they’ve been meeting here and making the quilts, they laugh and pause, trying to remember. Even then, they can only give you an approximate guess — some have been coming here more than 20 years.

“We retired and then we started quilting,” group member Kathy Leno said. “We’ve been doing it ever since.”

A quick tour of the church basement on a Tuesday afternoon reveals a precise, intricate operation. Fabric squares are cut in one room and laid out in a beautiful multicolored pattern in another. In a third room, a quilt is pinned together with precision.

Every woman in the group has a role they have been perfecting for years now, Leno said.

“Everybody kind of has their little niche and it all comes together in one big quilt,” Leno said.

The quilting group is bonded by friendships cultivated over decades and strengthened through years of cooking and singing and laughing together. And if the quilting is a lot of work, group members don’t seem to mind. It simply gives them time to tell another story or two.

“My husband says, ‘Don’t you girls ever run out of things to talk about?’” group member Colleen Ferries said. “And, no, we don’t.”

But there is more to these weekly gatherings than socialization, group member Karen Lidahl said.

The quilters are united by a common mission — one that reaches far beyond the walls of the church basement.

The majority of quilts created by the group are sent to Lutheran World Relief which distributes them as “mission quilts” to people in need across the world. The 100 quilts created by the group last year were sent to Mali and were just a fraction of the 28,080 quilts distributed by Lutheran World Relief to the African country.

In total, Lutheran World Relief distributed 264,585 quilts to 23 countries around the world, from Angola to Zambia, in 2020.

The quilts convey an important message, according to the organization.

“In a simple combination of fabric and thread, you reach out to people in their time of greatest need with a strong message of hope — you are not alone,” Lutheran World Relief wrote in a ministry guide in 2017.

Lutheran World Relief has specific guidelines the quilters must follow. Quilts should measure approximately 60-by-80 inches and be comprised of 12 21-inch squares or 48 11-inch squares. This uniformity makes the quilts easy to identify wherever they go, the Trinity quilters said.

Quilts from Lutheran World Relief have been used not only for warmth, but also to cover a house and swaddle a baby.

“It’s a great mission and it’s fun to be a part of it,” group member Marsha Pinder said.

Historically, the quilting group at Trinity would meet once a month, Leno said. But when COVID-19 broke out across the country last year and many members of the group sought things to do, they moved to a weekly schedule.

More meetings means more quilts, and the group expects to send out 200 quilts or more to Lutheran World Relief in May.

And at a time when the message of the mission quilts — you are not alone — is needed more than ever, that message will reach more people than ever.

“This is double what we’ve ever done,” Ferries said. “We were excited last year when we reached 100 for the first time. I think we’re all really excited to see what God does through these quilts this year.”

All fabric and thread used for the Lutheran World Relief mission quilts are donated by community members, quilters said.

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