Deborah Van Steenbergen began Quilts that Care to provide comfort for cancer patients and now the project is helping her grieve a loss.
Van Steenbergen started the volunteer quilting group while her husband Bob Van Steenbergen was battling a brain tumor last year. A quilter herself, she began the project in March 2012 with a small group of volunteers who met at the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury to make quilts for cancer patients who needed extra love and comfort.
"I know the comfort a quilt can bring, and I just wanted to let those patients know that they weren't alone," she said.
In August, Bob passed away at age 56, but Van Steenbergen kept the project going. Twice a month, Van Steenbergen and volunteer quilters transform a room at the Leever center into a little quilt factory with sewing machines buzzing, and busy hands cutting and ironing quilt squares.
"He's making it happen," Van Steenbergen said of her late husband.
Her grief is still raw. Married for more than 20 years, the couple was extremely close. They worked together at a family business, VP Animations, a global animatronics creation studio in Watertown where they raised four children.
"This is a positive manifestation of Debra's energy, her wanting to give back," said Melissa Seres, an oncology social worker at the Leever center who met Van Steenbergen when Bob received treatment there.
Van Steenbergen's project has received an outpouring of donated materials from fabric scraps and batting to spools of thread. A business in Naugatuck even donated office space that she uses to store materials. The number of volunteers has also grown as word of the project has spread. Volunteers quilters come from all over, near and far, from church groups to residents living at assisted living facilities. They all share one common: they or someone they know has been touched by cancer.
On a recent Tuesday evening, several volunteers - Madeline Nolan, Pauline King, and Debbie Danen -gathered at the office space donated by Gar Kenyon in an industrial park to assemble quilt kits, a package of pre-cut fabrics needed to make a quilt, which Van Steenbergen will drop off at various locations for volunteers quilters to pick up.
Last year, the project donated 107 quilts to patients at the Leever center, and other cancer centers in the state including those at Yale New Haven Hospital, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington and Saint Mary’s Hospital.
Van Steenbergen said her goal is to donate more than 200 quilts this year. She also has plans to register Quilts that Care as a nonprofit, and expand the project throughout the state so she blanket Connecticut cancer patients with love and comfort.
If you would like to learn more about Quilts that Care, contact Van Steenbergen at 860 945-0184 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.