"I feel the Lord led me to this group of Christian ladies," explains Shirley Sullivan. "I already knew how to crochet - and had no desire to learn how to knit - but I knew from day one I wanted to be a part of this group for some reason. When the suggestion of a hospital ministry was made, I found the answer to ‘why.’ The blessings I have received while working on an afghan, a cap, or a pair of booties, are too numerous to count, but the greatest blessing has been to share in this ministry with my mother. We’ve spent countless hours shopping for yarn, learning a new pattern, or just sitting quietly in the same room crocheting together."
Fast forward to 2012. The group is now the Joyful Stitchers - to better reflect the diversity of churches and denominations represented by the members. It has grown to over 25 members, including four mother-daughter teams, and represents six-plus churches with one arm of the group meeting at Calvary Baptist Church and another meeting at Shiloh Baptist Church in addition to Pleasant View.
Their commitment, dedication and faith are impressive, as is the number of items they give back to the community.
In 2011, 1,273 items were donated to Indian Path Hospital, Holston Valley Medical Center, the local chapter of the American Cancer Society, and several small groups. In November of that year, the Santa Train distributed 105 crocheted hats and small blankets during its trip. Some of the items made by the Joyful Stitchers go to nursing home residents that have no family in the area, while others go to local hospitals. But there is one group that has truly captured the hearts of these women: the babies.
"A few years ago I was on a respirator, like so many of the babies we see in the hospitals," explains Stitcher Vonda Gardner. "God had a plan for me, a job to do through this ministry. I had never crocheted before and was quite insistent that I could not do it, but God gave me the ability to do this work, which helps some of His most precious and vulnerable children. I pray that by providing these babies with warmth they may feel His love surrounding them."
Thus far this year, 1,002 items have been donated to local hospitals, St. Jude, and special groups.
Lesa Gardner, Vonda’s daughter, had another reason to join the Stitchers.
"Like my mother, I had very limited skills when it came to crocheting. I did at least know how to hold the needle! I encouraged Mother to attend the class with me and hoped this would be something I could do on planes, as I travel a lot with my career. I had no expectation of anything other than being able to entertain myself, but God had other plans. This ministry has blessed me in so many ways, especially having the opportunity to serve Him alongside my mother and share this ministry with others all over the country when I explain what I am working on while traveling."
The women are as busy as ever, crocheting tiny caps and afghans for newborns, sewing neck pillows for those receiving chemotherapy, and knitting afghans, but they have also expanded into crocheting and knitting larger scarves and hats for older children and teens for this year’s Santa Train.
Their formidable talents have also brought recognition from a local hospital. Holston Valley Medical Center asked the Joyful Stitchers to design a logo and emblem for their new program, Shepherd Watch. Joyful Stitcher Raylene Steward found an appropriate emblem and used her new found talent of machine embroidery to make the patches that will be sewn onto the volunteers’ smocks. Several women from Raylene’s church, Shiloh Baptist, have also designed and sewn lap quilts for local nursing homes and hospitals, as well as Christmas stockings for babies born during the 2011 Christmas season.
Because this is truly a ministry, the pieces are never sold; everything is donated. If you are interested in donating supplies or becoming involved with this meaningful ministry but cannot crochet, knit or sew, don’t worry, there are many willing and patient teachers. The group meets at Pleasant View Baptist Church every other Thursday evening.
For more information on The Joyful Stitchers, contact Shirley Sullivan at 423-817-8497, or email her at email@example.com.