Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa, decorated its sanctuary with quilts and kits on Palm Sunday to pray over them before sending them to their local Ingathering. Photo by Rev. Tim Krick/LWR

75 years of quilting and kit making (and counting!)

  • Emily Esworthy
  • Apr 25, 2023

In 1948, families in Europe were trying to rebuild their lives following World War II. That was also the year Grace Lutheran Church in Des Moines, Iowa, completed its first project for Lutheran World Relief: making layettes, assembling “Kiddie Kits” and hosting a clothing drive.  

Seventy-five years later, new generations continue the church’s LWR ministry. This spring, Grace Lutheran sent 233 Personal Care Kits, 20 Baby Care Kits and 42 quilts to the local Ingathering, and they are busy preparing another shipment for fall. 

A group of women unfold fabric.

The quilting group from Grace Lutheran church gathers weekly.

Patience, persistence, mission

Pastor Mike Schmidt attributes the ministry’s longevity to a culture of service and humility. He describes Grace Lutheran as a place where, “People will just roll their sleeves up, donate, get to work and get it done. There's an attitude of persistence, dedication and mission. There may be ebbs and flows, like during the pandemic, but we just keep at it.” 

It helps that everyone can get involved. The weekly quilting group has about 10 members; the youngest is Pastor Mike’s teenage stepdaughter Allison Olson, who helps with tying. On the last Sunday of each month, the congregation dedicates its education hour to intergenerational mission opportunities. Twice a year, they spend this time working on LWR quilts and kits. There are also opportunities for congregants of all ages to design quilt squares with fabric scraps throughout the year.  

“The congregation has also been really great about donating fabric, batting and crochet thread,” adds Kathy Piltingsrud, who has been a part of the quilting ministry for 28 years. “We used to joke that the supply room where we store the quilt supplies is like the loaves of bread and fish. Whenever we would open the door, there were always more donations in there.” 

Impact that endures

Cathy Watson, chair of Grace Lutheran’s LWR team and leader of the kit ministry, recently pored through 75 years’ worth of minutes from the church’s women’s group meetings. She estimates that, so far, they have sent more than 1,700 quilts and 10,000 kits to neighbors in need. 

“It’s all about being able to help someone,” she explains. “LWR goes where I can’t go and helps in ways I would want to help if I could be there myself.” 

A woman holds up a colorful quilt

Cathy Watson with one of the Grace Lutheran quilting group's completed projects.

Kathy agrees, “You're giving hope. You're giving comfort. You're sending hugs and love to people that desperately need it,” she says, with emotion. “In a moment when they feel like there's nothing, a quilt or a kit shows them somebody far away cares about them.”  

She even had a rare opportunity to glimpse the impact in real time. “In 2010, when the big earthquake happened in Haiti, I was watching the news and I saw two of our quilts,” she recalls. “One was spread out on the ground, and a woman was sitting on it with her kids. The other one was wrapped around a man’s shoulders, and he was just staring, like he was in shock. I recognized the quilts as ours immediately, and it brought the impact home for me in a huge way.” 

Emily Esworthy, Apr 25, 2023 email