The idea for the project — dubbed "Stitches for a Cure" — came to the Media senior living community courtesy of Michele Haines, one of its lifestyle consultants, who is an avid seamstress. She said that she wanted to form a sewing club, where the ladies who enjoyed the hobby — or had sewed for a living — could work together.
Then, it just took off from there.
The pillowcase venture is part of a larger project called "A Case for Smiles," a program through ConKerr Cancer (www.ConKerr Cancer.org), a nonprofit organization that was begun in 2002 by a local mother who made a different pillowcase each time her young son had to go in for a chemotherapy treatment. A brochure for the program provides the simple instructions for volunteers to make a colorful, standard-size pillowcase. The children get to choose — and keep — one to brighten their hospital stay. More than 47,000 cases have been distributed at pediatric hospitals throughout the United States and Canada since the enterprise was established.
The children's pillowcases the Martins Run team make are donated to CHOP; the women's satin pillowcases, in soft tints, are given to Lovely You, a nearby store in Media that specializes in products for women battling cancer, such as wigs, hats and scarves. The proceeds from any satin pillowcases sold come back to Martins Run, enabling the sewing team to buy more fabric and supplies.
On their weekly sewing night, the seniors are joined by several Martins Run staff members who stay after work, donating their time to join in the effort.
On a recent such evening, holiday music played in the background as the women cut, sewed and ironed their handicrafts; good-natured banter and discussions filled the air, along with shouts of "I need a trim!"
As for Erna Meyer, the resident comedienne of the group, she called out, in her German-accented voice, "I'm unemployed!" each time she finished pinning.
"It's just the girls," said Haines with a laugh. With the same group of women working each week, particular jobs have been assigned to different individuals, whether it's cutting, pinning, sewing or ironing the soft material.
They work with various colorful patterns in order to appeal to both boys and girls, no matter what age. Some have bright stripes, others multicolored flowers, or pink and purple butterflies. Others still have a pirate or football theme, and some are Chanukah or Christmas prints. Each has a coordinated solid-colored border.
Pattie Price, a lifestyle consultant at Martins Run, takes home each finished product to wash; they are then folded and individually placed in a quart-sized plastic bag for the protection of the oncology patients.
Resident Myra Brodsky said that she's been sewing for four decades, after being taught by her aunt when she was in her mid-20s. When Brodsky moved to Martins Run 13 months ago, she brought her Singer sewing machine with her, and now uses it to make the pillowcases, an experience she calls "fun."
So how does she feel knowing that the handicrafts she helps make are going for a good cause?
"That I like," she answered with a wide grin, as she switches thread colors.
Amber Connor, 7, daughter of Vicki Connor, Martins Runs' culture and entertainment manager, comes after school to help out. She fetches clothes, materials and supplies that the sewers need, and also trims the stray threads from the fabric. Haines has even taught her how to use the sewing machine, where she's made her own purple, pink and green case to take home.
However, a lack of sewing machines (they only have three to share), ironing boards and other materials limits the amount of pillowcases the group can produce in an evening, said Haines. The stitchers have sold a few of their creations — mostly to other residents and staff — to raise some money for materials to keep the project going, but with funds dwindling, they're running out of fabric to stitch.
Linda Sterthous, chief executive officer of Martins Run, took an orange, penguin-themed case from those at the sewing machines and turned its right-side out. Sterthous, who lost her mom to cancer earlier this year, said that she wished she'd known about this project back then.
But, Sterthous added: "I'm sure [my mother's] smiling over this whole endeavor."