When Rhonda Svendsen retired, she knew she wanted to keep helping people.
Before leaving her career in human resources, Svendsen took on a two-month project to knit mittens, toques and scarves for Siloam Mission in 2019, dubbing the project Peace of Wooll.
With over 400 items donated, the project was a success.
Then, in 2020 the COVID-19 pandemic put a halt to much of her volunteerism, but in early July this year Svendsen saw the need for lap blankets for clients of Palliative Manitoba’s visitation program.
Clients who are living with terminal illnesses are seen by an end-of-life companion and spend a few hours a week visiting, baking, going to the zoo or watching a film, and get a lap quilt to keep warm or use as a shawl.
Svendsen reached out and offered her services. It was a small goal at first, with a commitment to do six blankets.
Then, she thought to get others involved and put out a call on social media.
The ask yielded volunteer cross-stitchers from across the province. She now expects nearly 50 quilts to be made.
“It all comes from the heart,” she remarked from her home in East St. Paul, Man.
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The quilts will go through the channels of Palliative Manitoba which donates a blanket to each client who is visited from a volunteer.
“The response that we get when somebody gets a homemade, knitted lap blanket, it’s so incredible to see. They are thrilled,” said Jennifer Gurke, executive director at Palliative Manitoba.
Palliative Manitoba has donated blankets for as long as Gurke can remember. The donations have since expanded to those living in palliative care homes across the city, increasing the need for the 36” x 48” quilts.
This is the first time in almost six years they’ve had to request donations, but Gurke said there’s been no issue collecting, with the organization receiving double than their initial request of 40.
“It makes my heart almost burst because people are so generous with their time, so generous with the skills that they have, and to be able to put it toward something to help ease the suffering of someone else? I just love to see it,” she said.
The feeling is mutual between those giving and those receiving, too.
“We’re providing them with a little bit of joy and maybe just for even a brief moment in time, maybe they’re forgetting that they’re suffering,” she Gurke said.
Palliative Manitoba’s 2023 strategic framework includes the goal of elevating dialogue on death, as the executive director says more could be done to support dying individuals.
“We’re a death-denying society, nobody wants to talk about death, nobody likes it and I get that. I understand that. But it is a natural part of life,” she said.
The organization plans to work with other non-profits to develop a palliative care advocacy group, the strategic plan states.
Gurke said the donations are one way of normalizing dying.
“Why not make it as comforting as possible? Our blankets are just a small way of doing that.”
For Svendsen, the hobby she once did while listening to music or watching a Toronto Blue Jays game has become more meaningful.
“I’m just hoping that this will make a difference in someone’s end of life,” she said.
To help with Svendsen’s Peace of Wooll project, email email@example.com.
— with files from Katherine Dornian
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