BLOOMFIELD — On a chilly Thursday morning, the Helping Hands ministry group gathered in the fellowship hall at First Baptist Church in the southeastern community of Bloomfield.
This is a typical weekly session, with volunteers meeting at 9 a.m., beginning with a devotion, taking their places around tables to do their part in crafting blankets and then concluding by sharing the covered dish items each brings.
The Helping Hands team, which began 22 years ago as a quilting ministry, is still going strong making blankets of various sizes and for a variety of uses. Participants long ago lost count of how many blankets they have produced.
Their products are "warm and comforting," Mary Cox said. "We tell them they are made with love," added Cox, now retired after 31 years with the state family services office in the area.
If she is delivering blankets to a nearby children's home, Cox lets children pick the one they want and then writes their name on it. "No matter where you go," she explains to youngsters, "this is yours."
A Helping Hands founder, Geraldine "Geri" Whitledge, a veteran of a school cafeteria until she retired, recalled that the first project was actually handmade bibs for residents of The Baptist Home at Arcadia Valley.
Floy Weinert handles the piecing of quilts these days, and others finish them off by adding and securing the batting inside.
Jan Higdon, a member of St. Joe General Baptist Church in nearby Adalia, uses a sewing machine to add the edging. Like the sewing machine, the Helping Hands ladies function like a well-oiled machine. Everyone has a role.
The enthusiastic volunteers produce a steady stream of blankets — a lot of baby blankets — and a product they refer to as "bunny rugs," sized similarly to a throw and ideal for wheelchair-bound nursing home residents to pull around themselves to take off the chill.
Whitledge acknowledges she created the name, saying that's the first thing that came to her mind when they started making them.
The blankets have found their way across the country and overseas, she said. Most are given away but some are sold to help replenish the supplies needed to make more blankets.
These ladies are dedicated. They schedule other appointments around Thursday mornings. They don't miss unless they have good reasons. They seem to push the limits to participate.
Minnie Marion, fresh off a knee replacement and a stroke, took leave from Cypress Point Nursing Home to be present, accompanied by Sarah Parris, a nursing home staffer.
Winona Griffin recently completed chemotherapy, but she was present and hard at work.
Indeed, a benefit of being part of Helping Hands is the caring for each other. Wilma Hovis, also a St. Joe member, became involved when her husband died 11 years ago.
"I don't know what I would have done without these ladies to cry on their shoulders," she said. Others have had similar experiences.
Helping Hands volunteers have come and gone, but most don't retire from the blanket ministry until they go to heaven, leaders are quick to say.