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Tuesday, December 26th, 2006

Bringing hope to the homeless

89-year-old Coldwater woman gives comfort with handmade quilts

By Margie Wuebker

Coldwater resident Viola Bruns finishes another comforter bound for the homeless. . .

COLDWATER - The colorful comforters fill one corner of Viola Bruns' spare bedroom. Knotted and sewed with love, they will provide warmth for the homeless seeking shelter at the St. Vincent DePaul Society in Dayton.
The retired nurse's aide visited the shelter earlier this year with Carl Gehret, the husband of her granddaughter and a youth minister at St. Remy Catholic Church in Russia. She brought along 13 comforters and quickly discovered the number was a drop in the bucket compared to what was needed.
"Grandma made comforters," Gehret announced to a roomful of men. "Come and get one."
Forty men came forward meaning more than two dozen returned to their places empty-handed. She decided then and there to make more, lots more.
"I can't begin to describe the look of gratitude in the eyes of those men," the 89-year-old Vine Street resident says. "One fellow kissed my cheek and others shook my hand. They have so little, only what fits in a backpack and nothing more."
Lucky recipients hugged the comforters and wiped away tears of gratitude because the sleeping mats at the shelter have neither pillows nor blankets.
"The men I saw were clean as well as polite," Bruns says. "They are simply down on their luck without a place to call home."
She returned home promising to bring comfort to more people, including women and children also seeking shelter there. She now has made 76 with more in the works.
People heard of her ambitious mission and came bearing bags of fabric remnants as well as slipcovers and draperies they no longer needed. The donations continue to arrive regularly and she never knows what the latest box or bag will contain.
Bruns, who is legally blind due to an eye condition known as macular degeneration, sorts the donations into like colors and coordinating prints. After each piece is washed and ironed, she carefully cuts the fabric into squares with the aid of a hand-held rotary cutter.
The trusty Elna sewing machine, that has served her purposes for many years, occupies a place of prominence on the kitchen table. Situated beneath an attractive chandelier that provides welcome light, the makeshift work space also includes a large adaptive device that magnifies everything from the daily newspaper to fine sewing needles.
Carefully holding needle and thread beneath the magnification lens, she watches the monitor while deftly slipping fine thread through the eye of the needle. She puts the threaded needle back into the machine and begins to sew a straight line.
"I can't do anything fancy," she says with a sigh recalling the fancy quilts she used to make with no problem whatsoever. "But at least I can make comforters to keep somebody warm."
Bruns sews the squares together with coordinating solid material creating an attractive design. Bedsheets serve as backing and she places lightweight batting between the layers for warmth. Once the seams are in place, she reaches for a sturdy darning needle threaded with yarn. She plunges the needle through the comforter at various locations, snips the yarn to an appropriate length and then ties the ends into a sturdy knot. The process is repeated many times to assure the layers remain in place.
She purchases the batting as her contribution to the less fortunate and hit pay dirt at a summer garage sale - a grocery bag chock-full of thread cost $5. The contents will keep her supplied for a long time.
"This work has a twofold purpose," Bruns says. "First and foremost, it helps people who are down on their luck. Secondly, it keeps me busy and useful."
A sign on the family room wall spells out her philosophy perfectly - "Remember yesterday, ponder tomorrow but live for today."
Fortunately her six children, 13 grandchildren and 24 great-grandchildren all have at least two quilts made before her eyesight deteriorated. A former nurse's aide in the obstetrics unit at Our Lady of Mercy Hospital and then Mercer County Community Hospital, she recently retired as a sewing volunteer at the Coldwater hospital.
"I feel this is my contribution to others," she says slipping the next project beneath the sewing machine needle. "I can't stop now because 76 comforters is a mere drop in the bucket when it comes to all the homeless at St. Vincent DePaul. This could keep me busy for years to come."
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