Sandy Hanna, 75, of Gulfport saw an opportunity to make a big difference with her little needle and thread making quilts for cruisers. Plus, she loves to quilt.
The new project, named Comfort a Child (CAC), is funded by donations.
“It is a donation to children through the officers similar to what the department already does with Operation Santa,” said Hanna.
Donation boxes that look like bird houses were decorated by Gulfport artist Linda Worsham and are located at two local businesses: Karen’s Florist of Gulfport, 5122 Gulfport Blvd. S. and Fabric Smart, 5401 Gulfport Blvd. S.
The materials to make each quilt cost from $20 to $30, said Hanna. People can also donate money directly to Fabric Smart for the CAC account and it will go toward supply purchases for the project.
Threading the Needle
“I belong to an online quilting group and there was a lady talking about police officers carrying stuffed animals to comfort children and she was supplying those,” said Hanna. “My son was a bronchial asthmatic when he was a young child. The very first thing the doctor said was, ‘Get rid of the stuffed animals because they are dust collectors.’”
For her comfort project, Hanna wanted the item to be allergen free, easily washable and dryable, and something that would last.
Plus, “how many 10- or 12-year-old boys want stuffed animals?” she said.
Just before Christmas in 2018, Hanna pitched her quilt idea to Community Resource Officer Zack Mills when they were both working on a holiday-related charity project. They agreed she should make three samples.
After the holidays, Mills then took Hanna’s quilt idea through the chain of command all the way to a meeting that included Chief Rob Vincent.
“I walked into the police station and there stands two detectives, another officer, a commander and then the chief walks in,” she said. “I showed them what I had. Then, I looked at the chief and said, ‘I know you have a no donation policy.’
“He said, ‘Don’t go any further. I’ve been briefed.’”
With the enthusiastic approval of the officers, she was ready to thread her needle.
Typically, “every quilt should have a label telling who made it and when,” she said. “Every quilt should have a name.”
Hanna didn’t want any of that.
“I didn’t want to remind a child of a date that was uncomfortable for them,” she said.
Instead, she decided the only stitched message on each one is: “You Are Loved.” And, it is punctuated with a heart.
This way, “it will bring back a memory that is more pleasant – a police officer who was there to help them and not someone to be afraid of.”
Hanna has four kids, five grandchildren and three great grandchildren of her own and this mothering expertise also helps her when she is choosing fabrics.
“I don’t have to piece them or get into stenciling designs,” she said. “To keep it easy, I buy fabric that has a print I can quilt.”
It takes two yards of material for the front and back and another yard of pre-cut batting for the middle.
The 10 police vehicles that patrol during the night shifts will be the first ones equipped with quilts because according to Mills, they have the most activity, she said. “My goal is to have one in each of those first then we’ll go from there to put one in every cruiser.”
The first quilts Hanna made were gender neutral and not age specific. After the first eight, she worried about abuse cases that involved girls.
Mills agreed. “I should make some girly ones,” she said.
When an officer gives a quilt, she will make another.
In one week, she can make about two quilts and each will last a lifetime.
“Her heart is huge,” said Mills. “She has a God-given gift and wants to help those experiencing a tragedy.”
On Friday, February 24, 2017, a stabbing occurred in Gulfport and in the aftermath, a woman and several children were taken to the police station to be comforted while law enforcement officials dealt with two men who were the victim and suspect.
“Fortunately, I had LEGOS for the kids that night,” said Mills. “But, LEGOs get lost. Quilts are timeless.”