'Sending a quilt is like sending a hug': Project supporting residential school survivors (8 photos)

·4 min read

When Vanessa Génier heard the news about the 215 Indigenous children being recovered from unmarked graves at the former residential school in British Columbia, she wondered what she could do to support residential school survivors.

As more bodies were found in unmarked graves across Canada, it seemed to Génier that not enough was being done to help the survivors dealing with trauma and memories.

A Missanabie Cree First Nation member, Génier, who’s been quilting for over 30 years, created the Facebook group Quilts for survivors.

Her project sends quilts to residential school survivors across Canada. Since the group's creation at the end of June, it has grown from five people to over 700 members.

“It’s very exciting and just an honour to do this with these other quilters,” Génier said.

With each quilt comprised of 12 different blocks, her initial goal was to make 18 lap-sized blankets out of 216 blocks in honour of the children whose remains were found in Kamloops, B.C.

Within the span of a few weeks, that goal has been surpassed with the help of quilters from Canada, the U.S. and around the world, including Mexico and Norway, who have been sending Génier their blocks and donations of fabric, threading, batting and backing or money.

People as young as 11 and as old as 74 have joined the project.

“Some blocks are a little simpler, some are really intricate,” Génier said. “We sew 12 of these blocks together, it’s called sandwiching. We take the quilt top, the batting and the backing and we put it all together and we sew it. We close it up and they’re ready to be shipped off.”

So far, she has received 248 blocks and has shipped two quilts in Ontario and B.C. There are eight boxes with four afghans and four quilts that are ready to be shipped this week as well as 15 more quilts that are almost ready.

Some quilts will also be sent to Manitoba, Québec, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick. Génier said she aims to send quilts to every province. A letter from Génier and a poem written by a Timmins resident are also shipped with each package.

“The response that I’m getting is amazing,” she said. “It gives me a good sense of pride and I’m honoured to work with these quilters from all over to help the survivors.”

All the area shops, except for Fabricland because it’s a corporation, have supported the project, Génier said. According to her, quilt shops in Cochrane, Earlton and Iroquois Falls donated fabric and batting. The store in Earlton also offered quilting services.

If possible, Génier is asking quilters to include the colour orange in their blocks as it is the colour of the Every Child Matters campaign.

Last Sunday, Génier and her mother smudged the quilt tops to take away the negativity and send them off with positive vibes.

“I can’t go to every First Nation that has survivors and comfort them, wish them well on their journey and support them. But by sending a quilt is like sending a hug,” she said. “And this hug isn’t just from me, it’s from all over. It’s from all these people supporting survivors on their journey wherever they’re in that journey.”

Whenever she receives packages from quilters, Génier does live updates in her Facebook group to keep members informed.

“It is as much their project as it is mine. I’m just an organizer,” she said.

The original deadline for quilters was Aug. 1 but Génier will now be accepting donations and blocks until the Thanksgiving weekend, Oct. 11.

“If people keep sending them, I have a duty to make sure they get to someone,” she said.

A local business is covering the shipping costs if a package can be sent through Purolator. If a package needs to be shipped by Canada Post, there are donations that help with that, Génier said.

Blocks can be sent to Vanessa Génier, 130 Tamarack St., Timmins, Ontario, P4N 6P8. She can be reached at 705-262-1853 and vrggenier@gmail.com.

A 24-hour residential school crisis line offering support to former students and their families is available at 1-866-925-4419.

Dariya Baiguzhiyeva, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, TimminsToday.com

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