A lot of 'love sewn into it': Hundreds of masks, once used for COVID protection, repurposed into quilt

Hundreds of masks, once used for COVID protection, repurposed into quilt for a raffle to support chaplaincy ministry at Valley Senior Living

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(From left) Quilters Nancy Robison, Victoria Swift, Patti Medal, Kim Cariveau and Pastor Gretchen Graf display the "COVID quilt," which they sewed out of pandemic facemasks, at Family of God Church in East Grand Forks on Wednesday, April 13, 2023.
Eric Hylden/Grand Forks Herald

EAST GRAND FORKS — A few months ago, Shawn Havis, development director at Valley Senior Living, got an unusual phone call from another employee.

The employee, who works in housekeeping, said, “We have two boxes of cloth masks. What do you want to do with them?” Havis recalled.

The 450 masks were sewn by volunteers — church groups, families and individuals here and at a distance — at the start of the COVID pandemic in 2020 and donated to Valley Senior Living, which urgently needed them, especially for residents, before an ample supply of disposable, personal protective equipment was available.

Havis knew Pastor Gretchen Graf at Family of God Church was a quilter. So he reached out to Graf, who accepted the masks and, with four other quilters at the church, turned them into a 65-by-87-inch quilt to be raffled off Saturday, April 22, at the Valley Senior Living organization’s “Around Our Table” fundraising event at Calvary Lutheran Church.

Kim Cariveau, another member of the quilting group, was also instrumental in making the connection between Valley Senior Living and Family of God Church to start the project. The group also includes Patti Medal, Nancy Robison and Victoria Swift.


The resulting quilt represents “a nice piece of history,” Havis said.

Proceeds from the sale of raffle tickets will support the Valley Senior Living Chaplaincy Ministry program, which was important for the wellbeing of residents during the pandemic, Sally Grosgebauer, director of marketing, said. The on-site chaplaincy ministry “is something that sets Valley Senior Living apart from other nursing homes and senior living facilities.”

Raffle tickets, $10 each, are available at the front desk of any Valley Senior Living location or from the VSL Foundation, by calling (701) 787-7997.

Generosity and helpfulness

“We liked the idea that people had made the masks wanting to be helpful,” Graf said. “People were so generous in making masks, there were more than was needed. We probably have enough masks to make another quilt.”

“We’re just happy to be helping Valley Senior Living,” she added. “We all like to sew.”

As the pandemic spread disruption and fear in early 2020, many people volunteered to make masks; “hundreds of them were dropped off at our doors and mailed to our care communities,” according to a Valley Senior Living flyer announcing the fundraising event. “In the moments of so much uncertainty, and as we navigated the unknown, we were grateful and felt covered and protected by the kindness and generosity of strangers.

“Caring individuals crafted these masks for residents at Valley Senior Living, knowing they would never meet the residents who would wear them, but doing this act of kindness out of the goodness of their heart, to protect.”

Quilting tradition

Over the years, quilters at Family of God Church and other area churches have given many quilts to Valley Senior Living, which, at its three Grand Forks locations, is home to about 550 residents.


The quilts are used to comfort residents going through end-of-life and to residents for other reasons, Havis said. The quilt is given to the family after the resident dies.

In 2022, Family of God Church donated 10 quilts, Graf said.

For this project, she and the other quilters spent several morning sessions just cutting out squares from the masks.

“That’s the thing about quilting; it’s a time-consuming process,” Swift said. “You have to love it.”

“But,” Medal added, “you end up with an heirloom.”

“It’s unique; it’s one-of-a-kind,” Swift said.

The quilt “proves you don’t have to have high-quality fabric to produce a high-quality quilt,” said Medal, who used her long-arm machine to do the final stitching.

“I think there’s a hospital gown in here somewhere,” Swift said, with a laugh.


Several women in the group said the fabrics would not be their first choice, noting that some pieces were likely from fabrics other quilters weren’t sure how to use.

Nonetheless, “there’s lots of love sewn into it,” Graf said.

Swift also is pleased that her quilting group recognized and acted on society’s need to “reuse and repurpose,” she said.

“It just means we used material that didn’t go into the garbage,” Robison said.

Alice Hoffert, who saw the quilt on display recently at Valley Senior Living, said, “It was a moving thing. To think that so much good can come from something that’s not good — something so pretty, out of something so ugly. It just took me aback.”

In this quilt, Medal sees a symbol of “post-COVID,” she said. “It’s a rebirth. There’s hope.”

The quilt represents “something positive out of something that wasn’t,” Graf said. “It’s nice to make something that’s pretty out of something that wasn’t pretty.”

Pamela Knudson is a features and arts/entertainment writer for the Grand Forks Herald.

She has worked for the Herald since 2011 and has covered a wide variety of topics, including the latest performances in the region and health topics.

Pamela can be reached at or (701) 780-1107.
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