Quilters Wrap AIDS Babies in Handmade Love
Dec. 23, 1989
NORTHWOOD, N.H. (AP) _ At an age when many people are slowing down to enjoy their golden years, 70-year-old Ellen Ahlgren is busy heading an international drive to help babies afflicted with AIDS.
Ahlgren runs an organization called ABC Quilts - AIDS Baby Crib Quilts - whose members make and distribute small quilts to babies with acquired immune deficiency syndrome. So far, they've made nearly 1,300.
''When you can't do anything, it's depressing,'' she said. ''When you can, it's a very good feeling.
In 18 months, ABC Quilts has grown from a contingent known as ''Ellen's Elves,'' who worked out of her living room, to a network of hundreds of quilters in 44 states and several countries, including Japan, Australia and England. The project is supported solely through donations.
The quilters use original patterns and designs, and each quilt has a patch that reads ''Love and comfort to you'' and has the name and city of its maker.
Most are sent to Ahlgren's home which has become a sort of command center, with maps, tables and papers, not to mention quilts, cluttering the living room waiting for distribution.
''Every day is like Christmas here,'' Ahlgren said in a recent interview. ''There's always boxes being opened.''
Ahlgren contacts hospitals across the country to see where quilts are wanted and sends them off to places like New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Houston and Washington, D.C.
Those cities are a far cry from Ahlgren's rural home, located about 60 miles north of Boston in a town with 2,400 residents. From her kitchen is a view of a snowy field and thick woods.
It's a much different setting from the impoverished and depressing surroundings where many of the AIDS babies live.
''A baby's a baby no matter where they're sick,'' she said.
Though she realizes the babies she is helping probably won't live long, it doesn't discourage her.
''This (project) taps into a tremendous energy of love, compassion, generosity. It raises the awareness of people and helps them learn about this horrible epidemic.... It's not just statistics.''
Ahlgren, a mental health counselor who worked at a hospice before retiring, launched the quilt project after reading an article about AIDS babies.
''I had made about 20 quilts for my own family and had seen how much they enjoyed them, so I put two and two together,'' said Ahlgren, who has five children and nine grandchildren.
Ahlgren said she and some of her relatives and quilting friends made fliers outlining the project and asking for help. They posted them in various towns in New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Then an article about the fledgling group appeared in a national quilting magazine.
''I had been on vacation and when I returned, there were 360 letters waiting for me,'' she said.
Since then, nearly 1,300 quilts have been made and distributed. Ahlgren's goal is to pass out 10,000 by 1991, a number that would equal the projected number of AIDS babies.
Ahlgren likes to tell a story about a 2-year-old AIDS baby from Philadelphia. Nurses said all the infant did for most of the day was cry - until they gave him an ABC Quilt.
''He reached out and hugged it and went to sleep,'' Ahlgren said, smiling.