Quilts for the least of these

Lutheran churches share gift of giving quilts for 75 years

Esther Anthony and her son Asaya Erasto Liguda receive a quilt made by St. James Lutheran Church in Gettysburg, PA, during a January 2020 distribution at Muhimbili National Hospital in Tanzania. Esther and Asaya are living at the hospital while Asaya completes treatment for leukemia. Photo by Clemence Eliah

It’s hard to put a value on a decorative quilt — designed and created by the hands of a skilled seamstress.

It takes hours of work, a colorful mind and funds to support the habit. Each one is as beautiful as it is useful.

Yet Lutheran church bodies across the country make piles of quilts annually just to give them away. The Immanuel Lutheran Church ministry, ICW quilters (Immanuel Church Women) in Wadena recently wrapped nearly every railing in the church building with the warm quilts made within its walls. It was a sight that begged the question, “who are they for?”

Quilts line the railing inside the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Wadena just days before they were shipped to St. Paul on their way to those in need around the globe. Michael Johnson/Pioneer Journal


“I get people coming in here saying, “Can I buy it?” Immanuel Lutheran Church Pastor Nate Loer said of the quilts. “I get to tell them, ‘they’re not for sale,’ they’re not for people who can walk into a church, plop down $50 and buy the quilt. They are for people who have nothing. That’s who our ladies want to make quilts for.”

"The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’"

- Matthew 25:40

In fact, selling the quilts would go against their bylaws, according to quilt member Diane Teigland. Teigland started quilting with the group about 10 years ago, once she retired from teaching 36 years at Bertha-Hewitt School.

Shirley Hamre helps tie quilts with Teigland. Hamre said using an assembly line, they are able to put together about 12 quilts at a time thanks to everyone knowing their job well. It's a wonderful process with liberal amounts of coffee breaks, the women added.

The group spends hours each month, except for the summer, utilizing the fellowship area. They form “block parties”once a month where they cut the many different sized rectangles for each quilt. They cover tables with their creation and piece them together with care. They finally sew them together to completion. While the unskilled would feel pretty good about making just one and maybe take a break, these gals just move on to the next quilt. They made 100 quilts in the last six months alone.

It’s not always easy work, but it’s work that the volunteers want to do. While most come to the church, others do what they can from home. Some are specialists at finding quilt materials at garage sales. Others know just how to arrange colors of blocks as part of their artwork. No matter the skill, people get involved because these quilts can have a big impact in the lives of those who have so little. But just because they have little, does not mean they don’t deserve their best.

“These people deserve beauty too,” Teigland said. “We try to make them as nice as we can.”

The quilts made in Wadena and wherever a willing Lutheran Church exists, all are taken by the Lutheran World Relief and distributed throughout the world to those who have so little. In 2020 that list included over 260,000 quilts going to 23 countries like Zambia, Jordan, India, Chile and Ecuador. The quilts get used for warmth, as shelter, as a floor covering or for many, all of those things.



“I think it’s a project that excites people because it’s often the barrier between other humans and the elements, the really unsettling things,” Pastor Loer said.

The unsettling truth is that many people in our world remain homeless. Many kids don’t know where their next meal will come from. Many people have never been given a gift that can satisfy like these quilts can.

The quilts are sent off through a partnership with Polman Transfer in Wadena. The team of women, often a group of about 12, box up the quilts on shipping day and get them into a Polman Transfer semi trailer. Polman then delivers these quilts twice a year, as they have for many years (for free) to St. Paul, where they are bailed and wrapped in the warehouse, then sent to other distribution sites. St. Paul and Maryland are the two warehouse sites Lutheran World Relief utilizes in the United States.

While September 2020 was the first year in 27 years that the St. Paul warehouse had no quilts to pack, there's sure to be a large increase in quilts coming now that life is increasingly getting back to normal. That's much to the joy of the Immanuel Church women who have been pining for fellowship.

Quilts and kits once thought destroyed in the Aug. 4, 2020 Beirut port explosion are distributed to Palestinian and Syrian refugees. Lutheran World Relief was originally told by shipping officials and by local partners that three containers of humanitarian goods were destroyed in the blast. However, once officials were able to dig their way through the wrecked port they found the containers had been shielded from the blast by a large concrete building. Photo courtesy Lutheran World Relief

LWR distributed its first quilts in 1945 to families in war-torn Europe following the Second World War. Within a decade, the ministry was reaching around the globe to villages far removed from the world’s attention. Today, an average of 300,000 quilts are lovingly given worldwide each year.


Teigland and Hamre were unsure just how long the quilts had been made at Immanuel Lutheran. They make two shipments annually, in June and December. Hamre has been helping make them since she retired, 25 years ago. Her mother also was part of the quilting for years before that. As an organization, Lutheran World Relief has been sending out these mission quilts for 75 years.

Loer said the church also creates school kits, baby care kits and health kits. The kits offer essentials to those who don’t have anything. In many cases, these go to refugees, who have escaped a dangerous situation with nothing but the clothes on their backs. The kits give people hope.

“We give them the dignity to care for themselves,” Loer said.

School kits offer school supplies to kids, not so they have the best in their class, but so they can have essentials they need to actually take part in school.

Loer explained how his wife and mother-in-law created 44 baby care kits in the last six months. Those kits, like the others, are put together thoughtfully. They provide enough sizes so that as the child grows they can continue to wear something over two years.

It’s priceless work that pays the volunteers nothing. And after coming back to work following a global pandemic, nothing could stop them now.

Find out more about Lutheran World Relief quilts at

Want to help?

You don’t have to know how to operate a sewing machine or even have much artistic ability to be a part of this ongoing effort. The group can use more volunteers when they meet the first Monday of each month for their “block party” and the quilting on the third Monday and Tuesday of each month starting again in September. They also accept donations of sheets (not white) for the backing and squares of the quilt. Monetary donations also help them purchase supplies for their quilts.


The gathering is more than just quilt making.

“It’s about the fellowship and working together for the cause,” Teigland said.

Michael Johnson is the news editor for Agweek. He lives in the city of Verndale, Minn., but is bent on making it as country as he can until he returns once more to the farm living he enjoys. Also living the dream are his two children and wife.
You can reach Michael at or 218-640-2312.
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