KANAWHA | Students played with the zippers, buttons, buckles and shoe laces on handmade quilts sprawled on the floor of a West Hancock Middle School classroom.

The quilts, commonly referred to as fidget quilts, were among four Lisa Stortenbecker, a fifth- and sixth-grade special education teacher, received at the beginning of the school year.

“You know those fidget spinners? It takes the place of that,” she said.

Each quilt features nine sensory activities on different textile squares for individuals with restless hands. They can be found in memory care centers, day cares and classrooms.

Stortenbecker said the quilts provide students a fun hands-on way to learn and improve skills needed for daily living, while also strengthening their motor skills and offering a calming sensation in times of anger or frustration.

“They’re small items with great benefit,” said Sue Melohn, a paraprofessional.

Stortenbecker — in her fifth year at the district — was approached this summer by Robin Sweers, one of West Hancock’s regular substitute teachers, about the fidget quilts.

“I said that would be great and thought it’d be really helpful for the classroom, but I didn’t know how helpful they really would be until I started,” she said. “These are wonderful.”

Sweers was a long-term substitute for Stortenbecker last fall when she was on maternity leave.

“When I saw those quilts, I knew the needs of the students and thought if I could make these available to those students that’s what I wanted to do,” she said.

So Sweers, a member of Garner United Methodist Church, approached the congregation’s four- to nine-member quilting group, Comfort Quilters.

The Comfort Quilters was started in February 2015 as a mission of the church to provide quilts — and other sewn items — to anyone who needs them no matter their religious affiliation or residency.

Barb Trulson, a member of Comfort Quilters, said the group is modeled after a large one at Trinity Lutheran Church in Algona. The group makes comfort quilts, confirmation quilts, wedding quilts and fidget quilts as well as clothing and other accessories for dolls and cloth bags filled with wooden blocks and a stuffed animal that are distributed by organizations, like the Crisis Intervention & Advocacy Center and Hancock County Public Health Services, to children in need.

Since starting, the group has made and given away 200 quilts, which doesn’t include the 70 Trulson estimates have been made already this year. The comfort quilts quilts are placed at the entrance of the church for people to pick up with no questions asked.

“We just make what needs to be made at that time,” she said. “If we need something, we make it and other things get put on hold.”

The group, which meets Tuesday afternoons and Thursday evenings, made 20 fidget quilts after learning about them from the Algona quilting group and receiving a $250 grant from Thrivent.

“This group of quilters in Garner are really amazing ladies and have done many more things than this,” Sweers said. “This is just one of their latest efforts.”

Trulson said the fidget quilts weren’t made with “any particular people in mind,” but they were made knowing they could be used at nursing homes, day cares and schools. She said the group has three left, but it will make more if there’s a need.

“We don’t do it for honor or glory,” she said. “We just feel like we’re doing God’s work.”

The Comfort Quilters group is funded by the congregation and individuals’ monetary or fabric donations, and for those who’d like to give back by joining the group, Trulson said there’s “something for everybody to do,” even if they don’t quilt, including ironing, cutting, tying or sewing.

For those interested in learning more about the Comfort Quilters, call Barb Trulson at 641-843-3387.

Reach Reporter Ashley Stewart at 641-421-0533. Follow her on Twitter at GGastewart.

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