When Shirley Tornga was just a teen, her grandmother taught her how to crochet. The skill has served her well throughout her life. Now 79-years old, Shirley, who lives in Ellsworth, still tries to spend a few hours each night on her craft. “If I could work every night, it would take me about a week to finish one quilt,” she explained.
For the past couple of years, Northwest Michigan Hospice Assist (formerly Hospice of Northwest Michigan) has benefited from Shirley’s nightly work. She produces beautiful quilts for those the agency serves. “In 2017 my husband elected hospice services through Hospice of Northwest Michigan,” she explained. “I always made the quilts for gifts for friends and family, so I made one for his nurse case manager, who became like family. She told me that if I wanted to put my handiwork to use for a good cause, I could make lap quilts for hospice patients.”
Shirley was already familiar with hospice services prior to this experience, she had been a hospice volunteer at an agency in Bellaire for about 3 years before that volunteer program merged with the Hospice of Northwest Michigan program. “I began in about 1992 and I’ve continued right along since then. That would make this my 27th year of volunteering!”
The colorful quilts are as beautiful as they are functional. “People are thrilled when they receive one of Shirley’s quilts,” said Jeanne Marriott, Executive Director of Hospice Assist, “Even in the summer, a lap quilt serves such a wonderful role. There are times when an extra layer is needed to keep someone just a bit more comfortable. Visiting guests want air conditioning on, which can really set in the bones of someone who is ill. These quilts offer warmth and maybe even a bit of consolation as a layer of protection for vulnerable people.”
Shirley is now working on her 34th quilt since she began donating. Each quilt takes about $20 worth of yarn to make, which means there’s an investment of time, talent and treasure going into each and every stitch.
Northwest Michigan Hospice Assist is a 501(c)3 non-profit, non-medical hospice service specializing in volunteer and grief support for those facing illness and loss, serving Antrim, Charlevoix, Emmet and Otsego Counties. Call 800.551.4140 toll-free or visit www.HospiceAssist.org for more information on their services, or to learn more about how you can help.