AUBURN — Something as a simple as a pillowcase can’t shrink a child’s cancer or knit together a broken bone but it can brighten an austere hospital room — and that must help, according to Laura Decato.

“It makes them happy, or at least feel better,” Decato, coordinator for ConKerr Cancer Maine, said.

Decato helps organize a largely impromptu and mostly anonymous group of Maine quilters and seamstresses who donate their time and leftover fabric to help brighten sick children’s beds with custom-made pillowcases.

The pillowcases — sporting bright patterns, cartoon characters, trucks, princesses and food — are donated to Maine hospitals to help decorate the beds of the youngest patients.

“We even hear from the staff, that they love to put them on the pillows,” Decato said. “It brightens things up for them, too.”

It’s part of a national effort started in 2002 in Philadelphia by Cindy Kerr to brighten her son’s hospital room when he was diagnosed with cancer. Soon she was making custom pillowcases for the other young patients in the hospital’s oncology ward. Others joined the effort and it spread regionally and then around the country.

So far, the group estimates it has delivered more than 990,000 pillowcases to hospitals across the U.S. and Canada.

Decato said she got her start with the group in 2011. A self-described fabric junkie, Decato said she been sewing for years and has scraps of fabric all around the house.

“I had two small children, but I wanted to donate time in some way and teach my children about volunteering,” she said. “It’s tough to find that because not everyone wants you to bring children or they don’t work around your schedule. Plus I just have a ton of fabric.”

She took over as state coordinator last year, in charge of finding volunteers to make or clean the pillowcases and locate hospitals to take them.

“I’m really doing what I can to get the word out,” she said.

She’s hosting a pillowcase party at 10 a.m. Saturday, May 23, at the Auburn Public Library. Volunteers are welcome to stop by — with or without their machine — and make a pillowcase.

She and other ConKerr volunteers plan to staff a booth at the Dempsey Challenge in October.

“Anybody can do it,” she said. “It’s very easy to teach children how to do. If you’re learning to sew, it’s great practice.”

The design is simple — two pieces of fabric and a few simple seams. Once it’s been washed and ironed, it’s good to go.

“You can make a pillowcase easily in about half an hour,” she said. “You can make a ton of them in the time it takes to make a quilt. It’s a good way to work through your stash of unused fabric.”

It’s perfect for a busy seamstress or quilter. They can do the work late at night or early in the morning or whenever their schedules allow. Most quilters have plenty of scraps, and fabric is fairly inexpensive even if they don’t.

Susan Hedrich is the volunteer coordinator at Central Maine Health Care. She said she regularly distributes the cases to the Central Maine Medical Center, Rumford Hospital and Bridgton Hospital.

“Hospital linens are not always the most cheerful things,” she said. “All of a sudden they have Spider Man or Snoopy or whatever on their pillowcase. And I think it cheers them up.”

So far this year, Decato has delivered 373 colorful pillowcases to Bangor’s Eastern Maine Medical Center and Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston.

Most are made by anonymous volunteers who drop them off some place. One woman embroiders custom designs on her work.

“She won’t give me her name or her contact info,” Decato said. “She’s like ‘I don’t need a thank you.’ She’s just happy donating her time and knowing that they’re being sent out.”

All volunteers need to do is make a pillowcase and drop it off at one of the eight locations from Portland to Mount Dessert Island.

She stops by to collect them once a month, checking to make sure the cases are clean and ready for delivery. Some she washes herself before ironing and packing them in Ziploc bags.

“It’s important they are prewashed because the kids that are getting them are sick,” she said. “It’s important to keep the germs down.”

She’s looking for more volunteers to assemble or wash the pillowcases and more hospitals to take them.

“When I started, Eastern Maine Medical Center (in Bangor) alone said they had 100 kids a month,” Decato said. “So, there’s a huge need for what we do — and we are barely scratching the surface.”


Know someone with a deep well of unlimited public spirit? Someone who gives of their time to make their community a better place? Nominate them for Kudos. Send their name and the place where they do their good deeds to reporter Scott Taylor at [email protected] and we’ll do the rest.

ConKerrCancer Maine collection locations

Quiltessentials

909 Minot Ave., Auburn

Pins and Needles

157 Main St., Farmington

Cotton Weeds Quilt Shop

541 U.S. 1, Freeport

Mardens

North Wood Park Shopping Center, 750 Main St., Lewiston

Sew Portland

306 Warren Ave., Portland

Quilt Divas

607 Main St., Rockland

Sewing by the Sea

11 Periwinkle Lane, Trenton

Fiddlehead Artisan Supply

159 High St., Belfast

Making a standard-size pillowcase

Supplies:

— 26.5 inches by 40.5 inches fabric for body

— 10.5 inches by 40.5 inches fabric for border

Instructions:

1. Fold border in half lengthwise with the wrong side together and iron.

2. Place right side of border on the right side of the body.

3. Stitch together using a half-inch seam allowance.

4. Place right sides together. Stitch down and across bottom.

5. Turn right-side out and iron.

6. Wash thoroughly, place in a quart-sized Ziploc bag.

— Source: www.conkerrcancer.org


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