Quilting For Community: Algoma business owner sends quilts to fire victims

All Mary Stewart did is said she wanted to make some quilts.

After two weeks of opening her new shop, the Quilted Fish, to quilters and sewers of all levels for the benefit of Tennessee wildfire victims, it’s fair to say Mary has done a lot more than that.

The Quilted Fish owner Mary Stewart with a donated quilt for Gatlinburg wildfire victims.

The Quilted Fish owner Mary Stewart with a donated quilt for Gatlinburg wildfire victims.

Her simple desire to meet local quilters has become a charitable force that has gone beyond the borders of Algoma and united quilters and non-quilters alike in a drive to bring comfort to those in need.

It was just a few days after she opened the Quilted Fish in Algoma on Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26) that Mary and her husband Steve saw images of the wildfire sweeping through the mountain resort city of Gatlinburg, Tennessee, along Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

Their first reaction was to call Steve’s close friend, who lives in Gatlinburg.

“He said, ‘I’m fine but it’s really bad. There are a thousand houses that have lost everything,’” Mary said. “He’s working in a shelter down there and he said these families have lost everything and when I heard him saying it’s really bad, I just thought, we need to make quilts. He’s working at the shelter and you think, if there are a thousand houses, how many people are in the houses? How many families are displaced and sleeping on a cot in a shelter? They don’t have much hope of building something right now.”

The National Park Service reports that the fire began on the Chimney Tops trail in the national park before strong winds pushed it toward Gatlinburg. As of Dec. 8, the fire had destroyed 17,000 acres and nearly 1,700 buildings, injuring 130 people and killing 14.

Turning toward quilting in times of trouble is nothing new to Mary. A quilter of 20 years, her efforts have always served charitable causes in Illinois and Wisconsin. In fact, the first quilt she ever worked on – during a church group quilting class – was auctioned off for $650 to the benefit of a local shelter. Since then, she has been part of a quilting group in Delavan, Wisconsin that donates approximately 30 quilts annually to a bereavement center at Froedtert Hospital.

Algoma resident Lorraine Storm spent a morning helping Stewart finish quilts.

Algoma resident Lorraine Storm spent a morning helping Stewart finish quilts.

The Stewarts have lived in Algoma since early October and have spent the fall sprucing up the building at 403 Navarino Street (the former Billygoat’s Bait and Tackle), which sat vacant for eight years before Mary and Steve bought it in August. The Quilted Fish sells fabrics, books, cards, jewelry and gift items, along with quilt finishing using a Gammill Classic Long Arm machine.

Since Dec. 5, it has served as the headquarters for a charitable cause that has captured the attention of media across Northeast Wisconsin and, through news segments and clippings, brought in phone calls from quilters, churches and other groups across the state eager to help.

“Now there are people from all over the area, different churches that said they have quilts…people came the other day, this place was packed with people,” Mary said.

People of all quilting abilities have dropped by to help complete the unfinished quilts that have been brought in and when Mary began thinking about how to get the 30 (and counting) quilts down to Tennessee, it was that growing community of quilters and non-quilters that answered her call.

“This morning a woman from Oshkosh called and said, ‘We have 20 Christmas quilts ready to go,’ and I’ve been thinking, we’ll have to get some donations to help ship them down there,” Mary said. “And this woman said, ‘My husband and I are retired and we have a large Cherokee. We’ll drive them down and deliver them.’ I said, if you’re not a person of faith, you have to start believing in God because this is way beyond me. All I did is said I wanted to make some quilts.

“I’m overwhelmed just from the local community and how people came in,” she added. “I’ve been here, it hasn’t even been a month and as soon as they heard there was a need, they started coming to the door. That tells you about the people in the community and that they’re very generous people.”

The Quilted Fish is located at 403 Navarino St. in Algoma. For more information, call 262.749.1824 or find them on Facebook.

Article Comments