Story by Julia DiGiacomo
The simple comfort of a quilt brightened winter days for immigrant and refugee children at Hoover Elementary School. RISE AmeriCorps members exchanged greetings with families in various languages while children excitedly selected their favorite quilts from an array of colors and patterns.
Through the generosity of the Des Moines Area Quilt Guild, RISE AmeriCorps members with Eastern Iowa African Diaspora hand-delivered dozens of homemade quilts to families on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
Many refugee families at Hoover were forced to relocate after the hurricane-level derecho winds hit Cedar Rapids and devastated their apartment buildings in August. The quilts would help turn their new housing into homes.
“The families were so welcoming when we arrived at their homes,” RISE AmeriCorps member David Niyogushima said. “When we showed them the quilts, the kids’ reactions were priceless.”
RISE AmeriCorps member Kelli Klaus said the kids loved the quilts. The experience also offered a rare opportunity to meet the families of the children she works with. Since Klaus often works remotely, interactions with the community have become especially valuable. With interpretation from RISE member Angelique Nijimbere and a beginner knowledge of Swahili, Klaus was able to connect with families for the first time.
The quilts for Hoover Elementary School kids were among over 1,250 quilts sewn and donated by the Des Moines Area Quilt Guild in 2020. Guild members took advantage of time at home during the pandemic to sew more quilts than ever expected. Some quilters followed a strip pattern provided by the guild while others took off with their creativity.
Education and Community Giving Co-Chair Jill Reber said her organization is dedicated to meeting any need for quilts across Iowa. They have gifted quilts to cancer patients, newly adopted children, the Polk County Department of Human Services and others whose homes were destroyed in the derecho. Reber hopes that the quilts keep families warm during tough times.
“Quilts bring comfort to people in a really tangible way,” Reber said. “We know, just through the past year, that the quilts have made a difference in lives.”