Helping take the loneliness out of cancer treatment

November 6, 2013

While Deb Van Steenbergen was attending cancer treatments with her husband, she noticed many patients receiving treatment were there by themselves.
“It gets lonely, and I just felt so bad for those patients who were by themselves, I really wanted to do something,” Van Steenbergen said, adding that she has always sewn and quilted and decided she wanted to make quilts for the cancer patients.
That is when Quilts that Care was born last April at The Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury.
Van Steenbergen, who lost her husband to cancer last year, asked the Leever Center if she could quilt there and give the quilts to the patients. She advertised for her first meeting, and 25 people showed up.
“I couldn’t believe it,” she said, adding that by last December the group had already made 107 quilts, and as of last week the group was at 181 quilts that have been handmade by local citizens.
In September, Van Steenbergen branched out the group and started offering meetings in Bristol at the main library, in addition to meeting at the Leever Center, and another facility in Naugatuck.
About 95 percent of all the fabric that is used has been donated, Van Steenbergen said, adding sometimes people will stop by a meeting just to drop off fabric or other materials needed. The group purchases backings for the quilt, so they have one solid piece of material. Van Steenbergen also said many times she will receive quilts from individuals who aren’t part of the group, but heard about it and wanted to donate.
Every quilt comes with a label, and is donated to area cancer centers, like the Leever Center, Bristol Hospital, Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven, and the Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London.
“We are trying to move out this way (Bristol area) and eventually want to cover as much of Connecticut as possible,”  Van Steenbergen said. “It’s just amazing,” she said, adding that the letters she receives from patients who have the quilts make it all worth it.
Bristol resident Jan Kowalec has been friends with Van Steenbergen for 35 years, and said she has been involved in Quilts that Care since the beginning, even though she is re-learning the craft.
“It is a fabulous group, and I’m proud to help out,” she said, adding that she and her daughter, Jenna, help out with various tasks like ironing or cutting fabric.
Kowalec said she is trying to make the group better well known in Bristol, and her daughter has been spreading the word at her school to encourage students to help out.
“It is amazing to see,” she said, adding she has come to realize that quilting the basics “really isn’t that hard.”
Donna Leclerc of Plainville lost her husband to cancer last year and said she saw a segment about Quilts that Care on a television news station.
“I was looking for somewhere to volunteer and to give back and it really caught my heart,” Leclerc said, adding that even though she doesn’t quilt, she helps in other areas of the process. “I felt I wanted to be a part of something to help comfort cancer patients,” she said, adding that by helping make these quilts, she knows she is helping bring peace and comfort to those battling cancer, and is proud to be a part of something that lets the patients know “someone is thinking of them.”
Leclerc added being a part of the group has been a part of her healing and reaching out to others who are going through similar situations that she went through.
“I know there are people out there who need comfort and won’t lose the battle, and I want to be a part of that,” Leclerc added.
Quilts that Care meets at the Bristol Public Library, 5 High St., Bristol, on the first and third Tuesdays of each month, from 6:30 to 8 p.m. Volunteers are being sought, as well as donations of 100 percent fabric cotton, quilting materials, ziplock bags, and gift cards to fabric stores.
For more information, call Deb Van Steenbergen at (860) 945-0184, or email at or visit Quilts that Care on Facebook.
Comments? Email knaples@BristolObserver. com.

Quilts that Care began last year, and has already donated nearly 200 quilts to local hospital’s cancer centers.

Quilts that Care began last year, and has already donated nearly 200 quilts to local hospital’s cancer centers.

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