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Black Bear 4-H member sends quilts to Africa

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When Morena Hammer of Pequot Lakes and the Black Bear 4-H Club visited Greg and Jessica Cheek’s house to learn about their travels to Africa, Hammer came up with an idea.

“They were talking about how they were already donating to a school there. They said they don’t have quilts but just concrete floor (for sleeping on). We decided we would help them. That’s where it started,” Hammer said.

Hammer has been quilting for as long as she can remember. Her mother, Mary, co-owns Mother Originals Quilt Shop in Pequot Lakes and has been participating in Quilts for Kids for virtually all of her life. Morena has also helped to make Quilts for Kids.

“Morena’s been there many times. From riding in the car seat to delivering the quilts to all the shelters and halfway houses,” Mary said.

Between the visit to the Cheeks’ home and Quilts for Kids, Morena had an idea to help children in Africa. Asking for help from a Jenkins quilt group and five Black Bear 4-H members, Morena hatched a plan to provide 100 quilts to preschoolers in Zulu Natal in South Africa. Morena’s plan also required fabric donations.

“The Jenkins quilt group had fabric already. Some of the people who come to the shop here donated fabric and partially done quilts, too. So that’s where we got it from,” Morena said.

The project started in mid-June. Morena, the 4-H members and Jenkins quilt group worked every Thursday at Jenkins City Hall pinning, ironing, sewing and tying all the layers together. Morena did a little of everything, but she mostly worked with the other 4-H members to tie the top, batting and backing layers together.

“It was a lot of fun getting them all together and teaching people how to sew. A lot of our 4-Hers didn’t know how to sew so we had to teach them how,” Morena said.

After about 300 yards of fabric and almost four months time, the group was ready to ship the quilts. Shipping posed a temporary problem.

“The first estimates to get them shipped between UPS and FedEx were like $6,000 and we knew that wasn’t going to work. Greg (Cheek) has friends that do imports and exports, so he contacted one of his friends out of Alabama and his company personally shipped them, and had someone with his company take all the shipment all the way there so they were able to deliver them to a lady who lives in that lodge in the next village,” Mary said. “That was a big concern of ours, that they would never make it there, because obviously stuff like that gets shipped and sold, or boxes are ripped open and things are stolen all the time. We were very excited they made it there.”

The cost of shipping through the company was still $600, and Hammer raised that money through donations. Contributions came from Expressions Shoe Center, Lakes Pharmacy, Lakes State Bank and Chad Nelson Insurance Company in Pequot Lakes. The items arrived at the end of October and Morena received photos from the school about three weeks later.

“They hung on to them. According to our connection in giving them, they did not want to let them go because they thought they were going to take their picture and then take them away,” Mary said. “She gave them a Christmas party last year and gave them cupcakes. They had never had anything like that. They ate the wrapper and whole thing. It just kind of breaks your heart.”

“It was very sad to learn about them, but I was very happy that they got them and we got to see the pictures, relieved they actually got there. I feel better that they actually have something,” Morena said.

“What happens from there, we don’t know. It’s a different kind of life from what we lead here, for sure,” Mary said.

Morena used this entire project as a 4-H Youth Leadership project.

“A lot of my youth leadership is leading groups or being a youth leader of a committee. Taking responsibility and leading in general,” Morena said.

Morena does not know what she will do next. She does plan to continue work with Quilts for Kids. She is also planning her next art quilt. Her hand-painted quilt, Kingdom of the Crimson Dragons, won the Rising Star, Instructor’s Choice and first-place awards at the North Dakota State Fair, the first place and reserve champion awards at the Crow Wing County Fair, as well as a blue ribbon and an award for participation at the Minnesota State Fair.

Morena is a ninth-grader at Pequot Lakes High School. She also participates in Kids Against Hunger and helped out with children’s crafts at the Nisswa City of Lights this year.