It was a chilly, dreary November day with a brisk breeze that made it feel much colder than the thermometer read. It was the kind of fall day in Nebraska that sends a chill through your body just by looking out the window at the gray sky and bare trees. But despite the gloomy weather outside, there was one place on the Omaha Home for Boys’ campus that was exuding warmth, love and laughter.
Gathered in the Home’s Dining Hall were 11 women who were sewing, conversing and laughing, delighted to be in each other’s company. They were nestled up to their sewing machines surrounded by colorful fabric in an array of holiday prints. These women, members of the Omaha Quilters’ Guild and volunteers, were joyfully sewing Christmas stockings for the youth at Omaha Home for Boys.
Santa’s Sweatshop, as the group calls the annual stocking project, began 25 years ago when Pat Sears received a newsletter from a quilter’s guild in Dallas, Texas. The Dallas guild undertook a sewing project every year to create beautiful holiday stockings for needy youth in their area. Pat thought it sounded like a neat project and being a middle school teacher, Pat knew the need existed in the Omaha community.
Later when Pat found herself in a leadership role in the Omaha Quilters’ Guild, she sent a survey to members to gauge their interest in a service project. It was clear that the group’s sewers were particularly attracted to helping children. That’s when Pat recalled the Dallas stocking project and brought it to Omaha.
Since then, the Omaha Quilters’ Guild has sewn an average of 350 stockings every year. The stockings are distributed to less fortunate youth in the area through several different agencies. This was the first year that Omaha Home for Boys hosted Santa’s Sweatshop and the Home received over 100 stockings for our youth.
“Many of the registrations for holiday giving programs through various community organizations are very early in the season,” said Jan Fry, a member of the Omaha Quilters’ Guild and Omaha Home for Boys’ Grants Manager. “Our stockings are provided to kids who enter the social welfare system after these other gift giving deadlines have passed. We saw there was a gap, so we decided to fill that void.”
The group’s desire to help area youth began with the stocking sewing project, but they soon realized that giving an empty stocking wasn’t any better than no stocking at all. The guild decided to take on the task of filling the stockings. Today when case workers come to pick up stockings for the youth in their care, they are filled with essentials, small gifts, holiday goodies and gift cards for the kids and teens who may otherwise go without on Christmas morning. The guild raises more than $10,000 annually in order to fill the stockings.
“Some of the stories we hear from case workers about the children who receive these stockings are truly heartbreaking and it makes you so glad that you took the time to sew something special,” said Jan. “The stocking is a little thing that says somebody cared enough about you to make this. It’s small, but it can mean so much to these kids.”
The Christmas stockings that were stitched for the Omaha Home for Boys’ youth were given to the young men and women in the Residential Care, Transitional Living and Independent Living programs and they serve as a true testament to the favorite saying of the Santa’s Sweatshop founder, “You can’t take away from the dark, but you can be a part of the light.”