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  • Writer's pictureMarni Jameson

Cleaning Closets Can Aid Kids in Africa, Animals in Shelters

On a recent Saturday morning bike ride with friends, the subject of what we were each going to do the rest of the day came up. One friend groaned, “I’m either cleaning my linen closet or doing my taxes.”


“For sure the linen closet,” I said, offering my unasked-for opinion. “Not to guilt trip you,” I continued uninvited, “but children in Africa could really use your old sheets.”


She shoots me a look like I am one cookie shy of a dozen.


I tell her that a few weeks ago I went to church. (Don’t laugh.) It happened to be Quilt Sunday, which apparently happens every year, which I would know if I went to church more often. Draped over the back of every row of seats throughout the sanctuary were quilts, dozens of them, 101 to be exact, I later learned.


The church’s quilting circle had been busy. While my first thought was, “How quaint,” moments later my thought was, “How profound.” A woman from the quilting group explained that these quilts, and thousands more like them from churches across America, were about to go throughout the world to areas recovering from natural disasters, or where war has driven families from their homes, or wherever people need warm bedding, simple tents or floor coverings.


And they were largely made possible by enlightened people cleaning out their linen closets and donating old sheets, which quilters use to back the quilts, and pieces of fabric, which they use to make the quilt tops.


My antennae shot up. Wait, you can declutter and help solve global issues?


The woman showed a video about how in Tanzania, for example, many children suffer from a condition called stunting. They don’t develop as they should because it gets very cold in Tanzania. The children have little clothing. The calories from the food they do get goes to generate body heat, not to promote growth. So, their growth is stunted because they are cold.


If this doesn’t make you want to run to your linen closet, you have a road apple for a heart.


Last year, the Lutheran World Relief Quilting Mission, of which our church is part, sent 194,983 quilts all over the world, including 26,000 to Tanzania, and 36,000 to Turkey and Ukraine.


Reidun Canon, a retired pediatric nurse, has been part of the church’s quilting group for 10 years. “This project makes me realize how blessed we are,” she said, “and how much we take for granted, like warm housing and bed linens, when so many who live in poverty have neither. Offering warmth and a blanket is such a simple act.”


So is cleaning out your linen closet and giving your gently used sheets and fabric remnants to the cause.


All this got me thinking about what else many of us have tucked away unused in closets and cupboards that could bring relief to others if we only knew where to donate them. So, I did a little research.


If you’re looking for a good reason to clean out your closets, consider these worthy causes.

·      Gently used sheets. Box these up and call the Lutheran church nearest you. Ask if they have a quilting program affiliated with the Lutheran World Relief effort and how you can donate material. Sheets must be clean, not stained, and in good condition, Canon said. They can be plain or patterned and any size, from twin to king, flat or fitted.

·      Cotton fabrics. Quilters also welcome colorful fabrics, which they use to make squares for quilt tops. “A lot of seamstresses have stashed boxes of fabric they thought they would use some day, but it never happened,” she said. Old curtains work well. Fabrics must be washable and in good condition. Cotton weave and cotton polyester blends are ideal. What won’t work are fleece, leather, terrycloth, velvet, wool, or silk. “We also cannot accept any fabrics that have military, religious or patriotic symbols,” Canon said, “because we don’t know where in the world the quilts will end up.”

·      Old towels. Closer to home, local animal rescues and shelters appreciate donations of used, clean towels to use for bedding and to dry animals after their baths, said Carey Kuhl, a moving concierge who helps people manage their belongings when they relocate.

·      Stuffed animals. The same animal rescues also often welcome stuffed animals to tuck into crates to keep their four-legged charges company, Kuhl said.

·      Kids’ clothes and toys. When a child comes into foster care, many foster parents run to their local Foster Closet, which are in almost every community nationwide, to get age-appropriate clothes and toys, said Mara Shorr, a former foster parent and volunteer child advocate. If you have clothing and toys in good condition to donate, find a Foster Closet near you.

·      Luggage. Suitcases, duffels, backpacks or cosmetic travel bags can be a big help to foster kids, said Shorr, who coordinates luggage donations in the Orlando area. “Youths in foster care have to change homes often, and when they do, many end up putting their belongings in a garbage bag,” she said. “Your donated luggage can help them move with dignity.” See if your community has a CASA agency (for court appointed special advocate), or a guardian ad litem program, she said. Ask them to steer you toward a group home that houses foster kids that will accept donations of luggage, duffels and backpacks, which foster kids need for school. Please only donate bags in good shape, that have no rips, stains or broken zippers. If you have unused travel-sized toiletries from prior hotel stays, stick those in, too.


Now, go clean your closet, then do your taxes.


CAPTION: A Soft Landing in a Cold World — Pictured here on “Quilt Sunday,” these quilts were among 101 sewn at St. Stephen Lutheran Church, in Longwood, Fla. All were handmade from donated sheets and fabric. They along with thousands of other quilts are now on their way around the world to offer warmth and comfort.Lutheran World Relief has been distributing quilts since 1945. Photo courtesy of Marni Jameson

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