Orlando Modern Quilt Guild’s Quilts for Pulse Project: Our Experience Organizing a Large Charity Quilt Drive

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In response to the tragic Pulse Nightclub shooting on June 12, 2016 in Orlando, Florida, Orlando MQG established a quilt drive to collect quilts for the victims and families of those killed. Due to an incredible response from around the world aided by social media and news coverage, we were able to provide quilts to many more including extended family members, first responders, police officers, fire departments, 911 dispatchers, mental health providers, city employees, hospital staff and doctors, and others who were impacted by the shooting. In all, over 1800 quilts were distributed. This project grew into more than imagined, lasted about 1.5 years, and truly showed the love and compassion from so many worldwide. Due to the scope and visibility of Quilts for Pulse (QFP), Orlando MQG has received requests for information on organizing a large quilt drive. We share our experience and lessons learned in this document and hope your guild or organization can use it as a tool when planning a quilt drive.

Deciding and Organizing

A Community Outreach Committee or a Calls for Blocks Committee can provide leadership and information about a quilt drive. Since guild resources of time and possibly funds will be required, the board and/or membership should vote on the decision.

The board should agree on an approach to organization, leadership, and communication. As the project evolves, the plan may be revised several times. Guild members should be prepared; depending on the scope of the project, a large burden on the guild might occur over the course of the project.

Decide the scope of the project. How many blocks/tops/quilts are needed, what’s the deadline, who is receiving the quilts, what do you do with quilts that come in beyond the set goal? Making these decisions and communicating to the people making quilts is important. Also, communicating that: “The guild reserves the right to use quilts that exceeds the goal in X capacity” gives the guild the freedom to distribute the quilts that arrive after the deadline.

Set a goal and stop accepting quilts after that goal is reached. The goal will depend on the guild size and how much time/effort members are able and willing to give to the project. Without an end goal it may feel like the project stretches on and can be taxing on those involved. Adding a short deadline will keep the scope smaller. If someone wants to donate a quilt after the goal is met, thank them and suggest that they give it to someone in their own community. There is an emotional obligation to distribute all quilts that are received.

It is likely quilts will be donated that are either not appropriate to the call, may not be the appropriate size, or may have construction issues. A disclaimer such as: “We encourage people to submit quilts themed to the purpose and follow the requested size suggestions. We reserve the right to use quilts as we see fit.”

A photo release form should be provided and returned with each quilt, top, or blocks. This allows for the use of pictures. See Archiving for more information.

Members should understand up front they will be committing a lot of time to the project. The committee is a group effort; it is not a solo endeavor. Follow through is vital. Make your goal reasonable so that the group can handle the project.

Google Docs, Messenger, conference calls, emails, Slack are all tools for communication. Spreadsheets on Google Docs allow everyone on the committee to see where things are and contribute their part to the spreadsheet.

A spreadsheet detailing volunteer sign-ups of members willing to take on specific tasks is very useful. Tasks may include sorting blocks, making blocks, turning blocks into tops, piecing backs, basting, quilting, binding, adding labels, photographing, driving, and distributing.

Secure sponsors early on through grants, donations, in-kind donations, etc. Receiving resources and money takes time, so apply early. Funding from community groups, arts groups, church groups, and government agencies are available. If grants are received make sure funds are used as indicated on the application and follow up with the funding organization as required. If receiving in-kind donations, send recognition and a thank you to the business or organization. It is always appropriate to recognize donors for their contribution.

Gathering Resources

Decide whether you are going to accept blocks, tops, full quilts, money, or supplies. Realize that anything less than completed quilts will require more work from the guild, but will also result in more contributions. You may want to open up your parameters to accommodate a wide variety of quilts.

If requesting blocks, recognize you will get blocks that may not fit the size request. Choosing a block that can be trimmed down (such as a half-square triangle) might be considered.

Asking for blocks with a border ó” bigger than the final block size allows for trimming to the correct size which makes creating quilt tops much easier. 

Asking for bigger blocks helps the tops go together faster. We asked for 10.5” blocks, but in the future would ask for 12” or larger blocks.

Documentation

Documentation upon receiving is important. Capturing names, contact information, number of blocks/tops/quilt is critical. Be consistent, complete, and organized. Using a spreadsheet is helpful. Some people will want a letter for tax purposes. Orlando MQG decided to hand write thank you notes to makers of full quilts, guilds that donated, and businesses that donated. We did not have the resources to send thank you notes for individual blocks or tops. Encouraging makers to send contact information with their quilt should be posted with the initial call.

A label from Orlando MQG was added to all QFP quilts. We used an area on the labels to number the quilts for tracking. Plan your labels and have them printed so that you don’t have to write on every single label. Suggested information: name of the guild, contact information, washing instructions, purpose of the quilt drive. People receiving quilts appreciated being able to contact the guild to share their gratitude or personal stories.

Be nice to your postal person. They are going to be delivering a lot of boxes and packages. A quilt was given to our postal person as a thank you for the 6 months of almost daily deliveries.

Work Flow of Completing Quilts

During the construction process, a spreadsheet capturing the history of each quilt kit will ensure that things don’t get lost and can be tracked to know where each kit is in the construction process.

Orlando MQG’s Work Plan:

  • Weekly or 2x weekly pick up of blocks from the mailing location. Blocks were kitted by color or compatible fabrics, made into 30 block sets, put in baggies and assigned a number that followed the kit through the process. The baggie number would go on the spreadsheet. The bags were distributed at meetings and the members’ names who volunteered to piece the kit into a quilt top were recorded on the spreadsheet by the corresponding number.
  • The tops would be returned to the committee for another member to quilt. The spreadsheet was updated with the quilter’s name.
  • The quilts would come back and distributed to other members to bind with the names added to the spreadsheet.
  • Guild labels were added during sew days and usually by machine rather than hand stitched.
  • Every quilt was numbered on the label in the order it was photographed. This became the quilt’s tracking number at this point. See the section on Archiving for more details.
  • Quilts were stored at members’ houses until distribution. Distribution might take months and the quilts will need to be stored during that time.
  • Some quilts might need to be washed using color catchers due to smells or pet fur. We left it up to our binders to make that decision. We washed as little as possible as we didn’t want to be responsible for any washing. This is a decision best left for your guild to decide.

Documenting and communicating is important to keep the process moving. Having members willing to pick up tops and take to quilters or pick up quilts and take to members that are binding help keep the quilts moving toward completion.

Members might want to be a part but may not speak up. If a member has indicated interest on the volunteer sheet, contact them and get them involved. A quilt drive is an opportunity for a guild to bond over a shared project.

Orlando United Assistance Center, a partnership of Orange County Government, City of Orlando and Heart of Florida United Way, was established to assist those directly impacted by the Pulse tragedy.

Distribution

Create a committee that is familiar with the community to brainstorm a list of quilt recipients. Keep all the information in a spreadsheet. Contact organizations that are obvious recipients to help identify others who might not be as obvious. Develop a list early as it will help set the goal of quilts needed. The first list might not be the final one so don’t distribute all the quilts on the first day; there will be more people that you didn’t think of initially.

Distribute in groups so that all members have a chance to experience the impact of their work. The distribution committee organizes with the quilt recipients and sends a request for guild members to make the quilt drop. All quilt drop information should be part of the distribution spreadsheet.

If help is needed identifying recipients due to confidentiality, ask a non-profit organization or agency for help with distribution. Often they are in contact with victims and can be a conduit between the guild and recipients. Be respectful of asking organizations such as fire departments and police stations to distribute a pile of quilts as they don’t necessarily have the means and person power to do so. Recognize that there may be a lot of needs after a tragedy or event and quilts may not be high on the list. Finding a partner or person inside the organization can be helpful.

Setting aside special quilts for museums, mayors, places where they will be displayed, might be important. Consider this as you are developing a list. This will depend on the community and the reason for the quilt drive.

Archiving

Orlando MQG took a photo of every quilt because we had a professional photographer in the guild. This was a huge undertaking, but was very important for archiving. We used a numbering system to track which quilts were photographed. Quilts were photographed 200 at a time. Two people would hang the quilts on the hanging system, the photographer would take a photo of the front of the quilt and the label, a member recorded the number and any details on a spreadsheet, another member folded the quilts.

Provide a photo release form in the initial quilt call information to accompany every quilt, top, or blocks. This allows permission for photos of quilts to be shared in press releases, news articles, social media, published materials, or public displays.

Any notes that come with the quilts need to be handled. Will they be given with the quilt? Will the guild keep them? Notes that were meant for the quilt recipient were given with the quilt. Notes to the guild were donated to the One Orlando Collection organized by the Orange County Regional History Center. The History Center is archiving all items connected to Pulse.

Privacy Concerns

Are the quilts public domain once they have been given? What about the privacy of the recipients? Working with an organization or an agency that can advise and provide information is useful and absolves you from having to worry.

Public Relations

A small committee should be organized with someone who is experienced with public relations leading it. The news media will not give much forewarning, so having a committee ensures someone is available. Have a collection of information so a cohesive story is presented. Make sure that the effort is represented as the group effort that it is. Depending on the scope of your project, it may be necessary to prepare a press release with photos. Planning ahead of time to get photo permissions will ease in this process.

Information representing the group effort should go through the guild’s social media, rather than individual members’ social media.

Regularly post through the process on social media so that people feel appreciated, involved and informed. You will be the hands that deliver much love and support from many others.

Other Thoughts

Realize that there might be a historical impact to your quilt drive. Documenting and preserving information is important. Contact a local history center for more information.

Consider the needs of your recipients. Would a thoughtful and lovingly made quilt provide some level of comfort right now or are there more pressing needs (i.e. food, power, structure)?

It may be impossible or inappropriate to get some sort of sign off on each quilt received by an intended recipient. We would encourage guilds to do their very best to get the quilts to the people that need them, but not be overly concerned with verifying each and every recipient. If

someone says they have a need, they probably do.

Expect your guild to grow. Make room for new members so they share in the work and want to continue after the quilt drive ends. Orlando MQG welcomed several new members during our QFP project.

Not everyone is going to be able to or want to contribute, and that’s okay. It is a volunteer effort, do not make people feel guilty if they don’t contribute. Provide support, encouragement, and praise for those in your guild who are working hard to contribute to your project at all levels. 

QFP was an 18 month undertaking for Orlando MQG. More than a year after QFP, we have a dedicated committee called QFP Legacy that is still very busy handling details of the project. Be aware that needs may linger for quite some time.

Orlando MQG knows the quilts made a difference in the healing that continues to take place in our community after the Pulse Nightclub tragedy. We are thankful for a world of generous and loving quilters. We are Orlando Strong because of you.

Orlando Modern Quilt Guild, a Chapter of the Modern Quilt Guild located in Orlando Florida, is a non-profit organization formed to: inspire and support our members in their enjoyment of and growth in quilt making, educate our members with an emphasis on the modern aesthetic through programs and activities, promote an interest in and appreciation of the art of quilt making especially in a no rules modern approach to fabric arts, and assist our community by creating quilts and other fabric projects for those in need.

Contact: orlandomodernquiltguild@gmail.com