No space for quilters
Huddled around a table near the entrance of Ester McGinnis's cozy Southwest Portland household, a few Multnomah Quilters stitch fabric methodically and talk amongst themselves.
Once the coffee is ready, they move to another table where they munch brownies and fruit and sip on a fresh cup of Joe.
Then, they return to crafting a quilt that they will put up for sale during a Christmas raffle put on by Meals on Wheels — a nonprofit organization that delivers food to seniors. The quilting group is a subsidiary of Meals on Wheels and the proceeds for the quilts go toward funding the organization.
Something is off about this picture.
As volunteers for Meals on Wheels, the Multnomah Quilters spent the better part of the last two and a half decades quilting in various rooms in the Multnomah Arts Center. But after the Meals on Wheels program moved from the Arts Center to its headquarters across the street, the senior-oriented group needed a new quilting space.
McGinnis expected the Meals on Wheels staff to provide a new space for the quilters but the two sides have yet to agree on a location.
So, as a longtime member, McGinnis offered her house as a temporary solution.
"We've been talking to them all this time (since last spring) that we need a different place to go. We as volunteers cannot negotiate with a church or a building somewhere to move this thing there. We expected that somebody on the staff over there would do that, would research. I kept giving them ideas, information and nothing happened and still hasn't," McGinnis said.
Meals on Wheels staff offered up a spot in the basement of the organization's Tigard location but the quilters declined the invitation due to transportation issues. And facilitating an agreement with another location for the quilters to occupy would likely cost money at a time when Meals on Wheels' government funding is receding.
"There used to be a quilting group at Tigard but it kind of disbanded and we were hopeful that was a nice solution — that we would give them that basement and then staff support from the kitchen," Multnomah Meals on Wheels Manager Heidi Miller said. "But the ladies respectively declined. And we love those quilters. They're a huge part of our history and I know all of them."
The Multnomah Quilters, which includes about a dozen members, started in the mid-1990s as a recreational activity for seniors. They have produced 24 king size quilts that they put up for sale in the raffle and also make lap quilts for seniors. Miller estimates that the quilting group raises $2,500 per year for Meals on Wheels.
"That was an affinity group, people who like doing something together who cared. They liked quilting. They liked Meals On Wheels. They figured out how to make both things happen together so the proceeds from their quilt came back to this program. That's a very unique legacy," Miller said.
And quilting members find the process of producing quilts and being a part of the group beneficial for their mental and physical health.
"It's stimulating mentally; it's great socially. We can earn money for charity projects. It can't get much better than that. People that live in apartments or live alone don't have that much contact with social projects. To me, that's a sad thing," Multnomah Quilters member Pat Conroy said.
The quilters initially worked in the Meals on Wheels dining room, but did not enjoy the laborious task of having to put away their materials after each session. So they then moved to the space that is now occupied by Eye Care Northwest. Once that space was leased out, they moved to a classroom in Multnomah Arts Center. After Neighborhood House needed to move one of their programs to that space, the quilters returned to the dining room — before moving to McGinnis's house in January.
In the secluded location, they aren't visible to peers who might consider joining.
"We're doing the best we can do. We don't get to interest other people to come and join us. That's (Multnomah Arts Center) been a good venue for people to come join," Conroy said.
McGinnis plans to sell her house this year and the quilters aren't sure where the group would meet once her home is no longer an option. A few of the quilters are above the age of 90 and selling tickets for the raffle as well as advocating for relocation has been challenging for them.
"I think it's about time one of the younger ones, younger ones being in their 60s, are the ones that step up and be the representatives asking or making noise about these issues," McGinnis said.
Miller is not sure if the quilting program will continue beyond 2018.
"I do know that they have prepared a quilt for 2018 for us but as far as how active they will be going forward, I'm not really certain," she said.
But McGinnis is resolute about keeping the program running and just wants a viable workspace.
"This is temporary. This can't go on forever. We need a space. Even if we have to put everything away every time, it has to be a fair sized space," she said.