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Life Care Center of Hixson residents and World War II veterans James Gribble, left, and Mike Neal bond over the quilts they both received from Red Bank Church of Christ's Threads of Love ministry. / Photo contributed by Life Care Center of Hixson
some text Josh Haislip, director of rehab at Life Care Center of Hixson, presents a quilt donated by Threads of Love to Life Care resident Sharon Balthrop. / Photo contributed by Life Care Center of Hixson

Red Bank Church of Christ's Threads of Love ministry is bringing people together with quilts, similar to the way in which participants use thread to patch together the colorful pieces of fabric.

The ministry began three years ago when several young women attending the church asked older members to teach them to quilt.

Mike Goodson, a deacon at the church who leads the Young @ Heart ministry for seniors, and his wife Sarah are always looking for ways to increase interaction among generations, he said, so they reserved an empty classroom at the church where they could hold the lessons on Monday evenings.

Henry Jones — the now-retired owner of Pro Sew Shop who encouraged Goodson to learn to sew when Goodson was a college student — donated sewing machines to help get the new ministry started. As more people learned about Threads of Love, they made donations of thread and materials.

"We expected a minimal turnout at first," Goodson said. "However, we were extremely surprised."

A dozen women attended the first night, forcing the group to expand into another classroom. So many people requested to join the following week that they scheduled a Tuesday night lesson as well.

Participants learned piecing, quilting and binding in order to make a table runner over the first three weeks. They then learned to make a quilting block called a half-square triangle, which gave them about 30 different design options.

The first quilts the group completed went to elderly church members. Then, Josh Haislip, another deacon with the Young @ Heart ministry and director of rehab at Life Care Center of Hixson, told them about a need at the assisted living community that the ministry could fulfill.

He said patients' extremities often get cold during physical therapy, and quilts that could be placed on their laps while sitting in a wheelchair without getting caught in the wheels would be very useful.

The ministry now donates five or six quilts at a time, rotating between Life Care Center of Hixson, Tennessee Oncology and Hixson Dialysis Clinic.

When Haislip shared that many of the men at Life Care receive few or no visitors at Christmastime, the ministry started making more "manly" quilts around that time.

"He has said each year that without fail, a male patient or two will cry when presented a quilt on Christmas Eve, thinking he was forgotten," Goodson said.

Two male patients who are World War II veterans — James Gribble, who served in the Army Air Forces as an aerial gunner; and Mike Neal, who served as a jet engine mechanic and flew supplies to troops in Africa and Europe — bonded when they received patriotic-themed quilts from the ministry.

"I was really glad to meet another World War II veteran," said Neal.

More than 100 quilts have been donated to patients at Life Care Center of Hixson, and patients have now started requesting them, Haislip said.

The outreach has had a powerful impact on the ministry's participants and leader as well.

"One night in class as the room was abuzz with activity, one of the young ladies stopped the class and said, 'My heart is so full. I have known you ladies my whole life, but I never knew you,'" said Goodson, adding, "I had to leave the room."

More than 45 women have participated in the ministry, along with a few men, some of who requested private lessons from Goodson.

"I don't understand why some guys don't want to be locked in a small room with a dozen women for two to three hours," he joked. "I have to do so weekly."

Participants come from six area Church of Christ congregations, as well as from local churches of other denominations.

To learn more, call the church at 875-4816.

Email Emily Crisman at ecrisman@timesfreepress.com

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