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Jennifer Ackerman-Haywood/Craftsanity.com

Patching together

Lifestyle/Technology | Born in tragedy, Margaret's Hope Chest reaches out to children of incarcerated parents

Issue: "Flame-outs," May 8, 2010

When Margaret Herrema died on April 30, 2005, in Grand Rapids, Mich., she was 81 years old. She'd had a long and fruitful life and yet the nature of her death-she died after two young women knocked her to the ground as they tried to steal her purse in a grocery store parking lot-threatened to overshadow her memory. Granddaughter Carin Vogelzang knew she didn't want her grandmother's death "to be the ending of the story, for her death to define what our family was going to be."

Two years later on the anniversary of her grandmother's death, she and her mother, Carol Peters, launched Margaret's Hope Chest, a quilting charity meant to honor her grandmother (Carol's mother), who was also a volunteer quilter, by giving handmade quilts to those in need.

The charity gave away several quilts each month during its first year, most of them made by Vogelzang and Peters. The first one went to the mother of one of the girls convicted of murdering Margaret Herrema. They gave the quilts to all kinds of people going through difficult circumstances. Gradually other quilters learned about the charity and began donating lap-sized quilts and quilt tops.

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By fall of 2009, the charity had grown enough to take on a bigger project, committing to provide at Christmas 300 to 400 quilts to homeless children in the Grand Rapids public schools. With three months to make more quilts than the charity had made in the previous two years, Vogelzang reached out to the broader quilting community, using the internet to reach far beyond Grand Rapids. One popular quilt blogger not only donated a quilt but asked her readers to donate also. About 100 quilts came in. Craft Hope, a group that recruits crafters to make projects for various charities, made Margaret's Hope Chest its fall project, bringing in hundreds more.

This year Margaret's Hope Chest (margaretshopechest.com) is providing quilts to children with an incarcerated parent through its "Wrapped in Hope" project. The custodial parent, usually a mom, requests a quilt and provides information about her child to Margaret's Hope Chest. The charity posts the information, including the child's favorite colors and hobbies, on its blog. Quilters choose a child and design and sew an individualized quilt in time for the child's birthday. They send it as a gift from the incarcerated parent, along with a note (wording supplied by the custodial parent). Each quilt bears a label that reads, "A birthday quilt just for YOU. You are special to people near and far." During this first "trial" year of the project, Vogelzang's group will send more than 100 quilts.

The group is also working with Forgiven Ministries in Michigan to provide quilts to children of inmates as part of that ministry's prison work. They'll need at least 80 to 100 child-themed quilts (40 inches by 60 inches on average) just for that project. Meanwhile, they continue to provide quilts to individuals. Recent recipients included a family whose mother went missing, parents whose son died in surgery, and two women suffering from breast cancer.

Next year the charity hopes to continue the Wrapped in Hope project, but Vogelzang is content not to have firm plans beyond that: "I don't know what He has planned for us, but we are definitely growing."

She now has a core of quilters she hopes will continue making a quilt a year. "They are super generous," she says, "always looking for people to help. I feel I know these ladies, but I'll probably never meet them." The internet brings strangers together. It has allowed the charity to expand nationwide, connecting quilters with children throughout the country.

Vogelzang says she's enjoyed learning the quilters' stories. Many of them have a family member touched by crime or other tragedy. Some of the quilters talk openly about their Christian faith, but Vogelzang says they all respect it or they wouldn't make quilts for the organization, which proclaims its Christian roots on its website and blog.

She's also heard the stories from quilt recipients and come to appreciate how difficult it is to raise children with the other parent in prison. She knows that not all recipients share her faith, so the group is careful not to use Christian symbols or wording on the quilts, but each quilt is sent out with a brochure that tells why Margaret's Hope Chest came into existence and explains how God can take what man meant for evil and turn it to good.

Vogelzang sees the quilts as "a gift of love, and hope, and comfort" to people who might not have the spiritual and community support that helped her family get through the murder of her grandmother: "God is using our story to reach people."

Flat screen no more

By Alissa Wilkinson

2010 is the year of 3D-and not just in movie theaters. 3D televisions and Blu-Ray players are now in stores, and the next logical step arrived in an unlikely package: the Masters golf tournament, recently broadcast in 3D on its website. Though the technology required for viewing is relatively rare and expensive, it's not hard to imagine that widespread, affordable 3D internet is in our very near future, and the applications are staggering. One scientist at IBM (a partner with the Masters for the project) told The New York Times that the technology might even be used in collaboration with high-tech robotics to perform remote surgery-even across continents.

Money fonts

By Alissa Wilkinson

Watching your budget? Here's a surprising way to save money: Choose the right font. Printer.com, a printer comparison website, found that you can save up to 31 percent on your ink cartridge costs by selecting a typeface that uses less ink. That translates to $20 per year for someone who prints about 25 pages per week, but $80 per year for business printers (at roughly 250 pages per week)-and much more for businesses using many printers. The clear winner? Century Gothic, followed by Ecofont, Times New Roman, Calibri, and Verdana, all of which represent cost savings over the most commonly used font: Arial.

Questions & answers

By Alissa Wilkinson

Libraries aren't just for borrowing books, music, and movies. The New York Public Library has run a service called ASK NYPL since 1960. Begun as a phone service, ASK NYPL now answers nearly any question, no matter how obscure, that is posed to its staffers through various communications technologies-email, text messages, phones, and online chat. If they don't have the answer, they'll connect to other major libraries as well as specialty collections through their global network to find the answer. And best of all, the service is free. You can find out how to ask your own question at nypl.org/ask-nypl.

Susan Olasky
Susan Olasky

Susan pens book reviews and other articles for WORLD as a senior writer and has authored eight historical novels for children. Susan and her husband Marvin live in Asheville, N.C. Follow Susan on Twitter @susanolasky.

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