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Joyce Tessendorf (upper right) joined the Piece Corps at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church (Lena, IL) in 1974. The group has made over 15,000 quilts for LWR.

The Piece Corps: Four Decades of Service

The nation was two years from its 200th birthday when the women’s group chair at Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Lena, Ill., called Joyce Tessendorf and asked if she would take on a sewing project. Lutheran World Relief needed quilts.

Forty-three years later the Piece Corps is still at it, producing about 14 a week. This year they made 649 quilts, bringing their total to more than 15,000 quilts since 1974.

“A quilt ministry is an expression of God’s love,” said René Johnson, the president of the church’s women’s group and one of Piece Corps’ members.

René said the group used fabric from heavy wool coats when they first started. And other churches in the community — Baptist, Catholic and Methodist — were quilting as well, along with another Lutheran congregation. “They all got involved,” René said.

While the vast majority of their work has gone to LWR, some quilts have been sent to the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, local head start programs and a rescue mission. This year more than 200 were sent to Houston in the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey.

It has been a bittersweet year for the Piece Corps. Joyce Tessendorf passed away in July 2017 at the age of 89. The quilters have spent the months since honoring her dedication and effort.

The group is as steady as clockwork, meeting every Wednesday morning, and a number of members do prep work throughout the week.

René said she is a relatively new member, especially when she looks at the group’s four decades of service. She joined in 1998.

“We thank God for giving us work to do that has impacted so many around the world in places we don’t know,” she said. “A lot of the members who worked so long are gone but their children are still here.”

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