by Dennis Dalman
At the Sartell Community Center, about a dozen people worked hard but had fun creating tie-blankets when all of a sudden they heard a man’s voice in the room thanking them, commending them for their good collective deed.
They were stunned and moved by the stranger’s kind comments, which were spoken via a cell phone placed on speaker-call.
It happened during a volunteer project called “Positive Vibes – Blankets of Love,” organized by Carolyn Bertsch, a Sartell resident. The 19 blankets they created were delivered, on Valentine’s Day, to the local Coborn Cancer Healing Center.
At the community center during the blanket-making process, one of the volunteers, Trina Dietz, received a call on her cell phone while she was tying a blanket. Dietz is the director of alumni engagement at St. Cloud State University. The phone call was from Erik Evans, a friend she’d met years ago in college. When Trina told Erik what she and the others were doing at that very moment, he became emotional, tearfully so, and praised the “Blankets of Love” project. Dietz asked him if he could repeat his comments if she put her phone on speaker-call.
“Listen to this,” Dietz told the room.
They heard Erik’s voice: his thanks, his praise, his gratitude and why what they’re doing means so much to so many. On hearing Evan’s words, the blanket-makers, too, became emotional, some tearfully so.
When contacted by the Newsleader later by telephone, Evans, who lives in the Twin Cities, shared his story. He is the director of communications for the Agriculture Utilization Research Institute, which is based at the University of Minnesota.
In 2010, Evans’ mother died after battling cancer. During her treatments, she had been given a homemade comfort blanket. After she passed on, Erik “inherited” the blanket, which ever since he has considered a precious heirloom that will someday be given to his son.
“The blanket-making project is a really, really good thing to do for families,” Evans said. “It’s not just a kindness to the person suffering from cancer but to that person’s family. It’s a tie during a scary time whether the patient survives cancer or doesn’t.”
The blanket, which his mother cherished, is a patchwork block quilt of subdued, restful colors. When Evans sees or touches the quilt, it’s almost like seeing and touching his mother, he said.
Blankets of Love
The “Positive Vibes – Blankets of Love” project actually began on Jan. 3, Carolyn Bertsch’s birthday. She decided to do a charity project on her birthday by inviting friends to buy fleece material and make a bunch of blankets for the Coborn Cancer Center. They made 12 tie-blankets, which are two rectangular pieces of fleece material that are first cut around their edges and then those small strips are tied together, joining the two pieces – not requiring any needle-and-thread sewing.
When Bertsch delivered the blankets to the cancer center, she was told how happy they were because they were almost out of comfort blankets for the patients.
That got Bertsch to wondering: Why not make more blankets? Why not do another “Blankets of Love” gathering?
Her husband, Matt, and their business 4 Seasons Window, Carpet and Air Duct Cleaning, covered the cost of renting a large room at the community center for another project.
Bertsch contacted prospective volunteers via her “Positive Vibes” Facebook group, which does a variety of charitable deeds for people in Sartell and elsewhere. She asked those who had time to volunteer to buy two 2-yard pieces of fleece material and bring scissors to the community-center gathering.
“We had a good time,” Dietz said. “We all met some new people and had nice conversations about the community we live in. I would do it again. The blankets go to people who are having a really rough time,” adding how nice it was for all of them to get the inspiring comments from friend Erik Evans.
Two of the other volunteers were a mother-daughter duo, Laura Smith and Oriana Abfalter. Smith works in probation services for Stearns County; Abfalter, a Sartell resident, is a cardiac ultrasound technician at the Veterans Administration Hospital, St. Cloud. Abfalter enjoys volunteer projects, including teaching yoga to employees at the VA Hospital.
“My mom and I had so much fun at the Blankets of Love project,” Abfalter said. “We met many new people, and it was such a good time.”
Another mother-daughter duo that helped with the project was Amy Koshiol of Sartell and her 15-year-old daughter Emily. They made two blankets and later, after the gathering that day, two more blankets at their home. They are now working on a third.
When making the blankets, Amy Koshiol had memories of her mother, Judy Pearson, who received such a blanket when she was very ill with cancer. Pearson had moved from Iowa in 2013 to live with daughter Amy and her family while undergoing treatments at the Coborn Cancer Center. Sadly, she died of cancer in 2016.
“It was all about quality of her life,” said Koshiol, commentating on her mother’s declining health. “But it hit the point where quality was no longer possible. Still, she had a good last run.”
Koshiol has been active in the “Positive Vibes” program for several years, and she looks forward to more projects.
“The main thing is to contribute in any way we can,” she said. “It feeds my soul. It makes me feel good to be able to contribute.”