Cover Story: Quilts bundle up the war-torn, the hurt in Kosovo

PRISTINA, Kosovo — After watching Church members respond to a call to make and donate quilts to aid refugees here, Relief Society Gen. Pres. Mary Ellen Smoot traveled Nov. 11-12 in this war-torn country — hand delivering a few of the handmade gifts to some of the people who need them most.

She met a mother, raising four small boys and two teenage daughters. They live in a tent, using a stove for warmth.

She held a 3-month-old baby whose father had been killed in conflict.

She talked with a woman who was so distracted by the pressures of facing winter without a husband or a home that she never smiled.

She watched a family who had very little themselves, but offered strangers bread.

And she wrapped them all in quilts.

The gifts brought the refugees — who fled their homes with nothing, only to return to find their possessions in ruins — more than warmth, Sister Smoot said. They brought them joy and hope.

"I can't tell you how grateful they were for what we were doing," she said. "It was a very enlightening experience," Sister Smoot told the Church News in a telephone interview.

Sister Smoot recalled visiting the first family she met in Kosovo. The mother and six children were living in a tent. As Sister Smoot's party walked through the front gate she gave a little girl a coat — donated from the Church's Humanitarian Center as part of a drive by the FOX television affiliate in Utah.

"The little coat just fit her," Sister Smoot said. "The little girl just clung to it. Her sister tried to put it on her, but she just clung to it."

In the next community, Sister Smoot wrapped a small child in a quilt made Sept. 25 by diplomats attending the 9th annual Western Family Picnic at the Marriott Family Ranch in Hume, Va.

Then, recalled Sister Smoot, she met the mother who did not smile. The woman was "facing winter with little children around her and no husband to help her."

Sister Smoot showed the mother a quilt made by some of the victims of the tornado that touched down in Salt Lake City Aug. 11. She explained that the Relief Society sisters, members of the Salt Lake Ensign Stake, had helped to make a quilt, despite their own problems.

"We wrapped that mother in that big beautiful quilt and she almost smiled."

The remainder of the tens of thousands of quilts made by Church members for Kosovar refugees will be distributed by Mercy Corps International and the Mother Theresa Society of Kosovo — which have also distributed other goods and supplies provided by the Church for refugees.

Speaking of the distribution, Sister Smoot said: "When we go out into the small communities we have to be so fair. Mercy Corps knows the people in the area and [keeps] close tabs on being fair."

Sister Smoot said she has heard countless stories of the joy that has come into the lives of Church members who have made the quilts. It is "absolutely humbling," she added, to also witness the joy that the quilts will bring to those who need them.

This project, she said, has ignited an enthusiasm for service within the Relief Society.

After seeing more than 100,000 quilts made by hand, with donated material and labor, Sister Smoot hopes that the members who were so willing to help refugees in far-away Kosovo will also look within their own families, wards, neighborhoods and communities for service opportunities.

"We hope the sisters will take the same enthusiasm to build and lift each other to new heights," Sister Smoot said. "We are encouraging the sisters to look within their own areas this Christmas season, to see where they can lift others — with the same enthusiasm as we have seen on this quilt project."

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