"I knew you were good," Linda Lewis told an overflow congregation of about 400 at a recent LDS fireside. "But I didn't know you were this good."
Lewis was referring to the display behind the audience: a church cultural hall crowded with four long rows of tables, each piled neatly with new quilts and warm clothing.The meeting culminated a two-month community project initiated by Lewis, where participants were able to view the collective fruits of their labor and learn more about who will benefit from their efforts.
"We have 740 hats, 130 sets of new pajamas, 400 pairs of new gloves, 75 pairs of booties and slippers, 52 new coats, over 150 used coats, 138 receiving blankets, and 1,023 quilts," an ecstatic Lewis said, announcing the final count.
The project's conception came when Lewis saw televised news coverage of the politically torn and famine infested country of North Korea. She could not erase from her mind images of solemn faced pot-bellied children, their growth stunted by malnutrition, their bodies thinly clad.
Lewis contacted Garry Flake, field operations manager for the humanitarian services division of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and asked, "What can be done?"
Flake had recently returned from a visit to North Korea. He had witnessed the debilitating conditions and hopelessness in people's eyes. He had heard their concerns of an upcoming winter and no accessible fuel for heat. An official had expressed to him the simple plea, "We are desperate." Anything that would provide warmth, he said, could be a lifesaver.
As soon as Lewis got off the phone, she got to work. She called her project Covers for Kids and began forming a community committee to provide quilts that would be distributed through the North Korean Long Song orphanage. She optimistically set a goal of 500 quilts. She gave participants instructions on sizes and materials, telling them that the quilts would likely be washed against rocks in a river. Durability was more important than beauty.
Among the display were a dozen quilts made by 17-year-old Marci Bowring and her friends in Blanding. Attached to each quilt was a little stuffed animal and a Utah postcard on which Bow-ring's brother - a returned LDS missionary from South Korea - had penned a message to the recipient.
Monticello youth were responsible for most of the new coats, gloves and pajamas bought with money from fund-raisers. Quality used goods had also been obtained through clothing drives. When the shipment went out, each pair of gloves had a stick of gum slipped into them.
Church groups, school classes, families and even jail inmates got into the act, as they tied and bound quilts or crocheted stocking caps. Lewis never imagined the enthusiastic response, or the eventual magnitude of the project as it spilled into neighboring communities.
After a Jan. 3 story in the Deseret News, Lewis said she received donations from all over Utah.
More than 200 of the quilts were made by Bob and Darlene Low of Monticello. "I told Bob he could quit helping after we had done 20," Darlene Low confessed, but he can't seem to count."
One of the quilts, made by LaWana Palmer, had a town pattern on it with buildings and roadways. Palmer had sewn a zippered pocket to the top of the quilt and filled it with toy trucks and cars. As an afterthought she added a map of Utah with Blan-ding circled on it and added her address.
"I wish I could convey back to you the feelings of people as they receive help. The little quilt that someone has tied here in Monticello will become an heirloom for generations to come for someone in North Korea," Flake said.
"It truly is more blessed to give than to receive. Feel the sweet spirit? What a blessing of love and unity! Whenever we forget ourselves, whenever we reach out, we are blessed," he said.
"We may never know the effects of a warm quilt around a small body, but our communities are better places to be just because of the unselfish acts that caused (the quilts) to be made in the first place," Lewis said.