On June 29 firefighters from fire departments throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains were blanketed in surprise when three women showed up with a number of free, handmade quilts.
Almost 80 firefighters from the Boulder Creek, Felton, Zayante and Ben Lomond fire protection districts received the gifts, which were donated through an effort of the Pajaro Valley Quilt Association (PVQA) and other local quilters.
Barbara Lockwood, one such quilter who had to evacuate her home during last year’s CZU Lightning Complex fires, said the donation was to show their appreciation for the fire departments’ hard work battling the blazes.
“We wanted to honor these firefighters who have done so much for the community, in keeping us safe then … and all they’ve done since,” Lockwood said. “We are just so thankful.”
Since October 2020, the group of quilters has joined forces every month to donate hundreds of quilts to victims of the fires through the CZU Lightning Fire Quilt Project. PVQA’s Helen Klee and Lori Camner spearheaded a nationwide call for quilt guilds to gather donations to families and individuals whose homes and lives suffered damage from the disaster.
A website was launched, and organizers began accepting quilts from as far away as Florida, Maine and parts of Canada. Lockwood and PVQA joined a number of Facebook groups, sent out email blasts and forms for people to donate and request quilts.
Then, with assistance from the County of Santa Cruz’s Office of Emergency Services, they organized giveaways at local grange halls and other locations.
“We had tables of quilts, hundreds, laid out for people to choose from,” Lockwood said. “We would ask people what kind of quilt they wanted, what color or design … People were overwhelmed with emotion. It was just a very tangible gift … something they could say, ‘This is mine, just for me.’”
About 1,000 quilts have been gifted across the county. The giveaways have seen close to 400 families receive quilts (totaling about 700 quilts). Additional quilts were gifted to employees at Camp Hammer, a camp for individuals with developmental disabilities that was destroyed in the fires, as well as the Alzheimer’s Association.
“A handmade quilt is a very personal gift,” Lockwood said. “Quilters put a lot of time and love into them … sometimes they are made from $200 worth of supplies. It can take weeks to put one together.”
Organizers of the project are planning to cap it in early September. They have more quilts to give out, and are still getting occasional requests from people who weren’t aware of the project.
“Just this week … there was a disabled man in Boulder Creek who reached out,” Lockwood said. “I interviewed him, sent him photos for him to choose, and set up a time to deliver it to him. We do want to finish the program soon, but we don’t want to leave anyone out. We still have quilts.”
Anyone interested in receiving a quilt or supporting the CZU Lightning Complex Fire Quilt Project should visit czulightningfirequilts.com.