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391 squares of love

Farmington Hills quilters warm up Detroit veterans

Dec. 9, 2011  |  
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The Farmington Hills Library Quilters presented quilts to veterans Thursday at Piquette Square in Detroit. The quilts were made as a reminder of love from strangers, said the group's founder, Ruth Ann Carter. Each quilt is 68 inches by 93 inches and made up of 391 squares. / Photos by MIKE BROOKBANK/Detroit Free Press
The veterans are all formerly homeless people. Air Force veteran Renard Mays said his grandmother used to make quilts for him and that the colorful squares bring joy to veterans who are often misunderstood.

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Warm wishes, love and even a cherished childhood memory came to a group of formerly homeless veterans in Detroit on Thursday.

All wrapped in the form of 15 handmade quilts.

Five of the 46-member Farmington Hills Library Quilters group presented the quilts to the veterans living at the Piquette Square apartment complex, near New Center, on Brush at Piquette. Members of the group said they went in and discreetly measured the size of the beds in the 150-unit facility a few months ago.

Each colorful 68-inch-by-93-inch quilt, with 391 squares, was made to be a reminder of love from strangers, explained the quilting group's founder, Ruth Ann Carter.

"That they, at night, can feel warm and safe, and remember that we do care, and that the other people who help Piquette Square care," said Carter, 78, of Farmington Hills. "They seem to know that. Today, they showed every sign of that in the way they responded."

Air Force veteran Renard Mays, 53, who was based in Japan, Korea, Mississippi, Texas and Florida from 1976 to 1982, said he will lay his quilt at the end of his bed -- just as he did with the quilts his grandmother, Flora Bell, made for him as a boy. He said the colorful squares bring joy to veterans like him who have once been homeless and often misunderstood.

Now being treated for anxiety, depression and the effects of a series of strokes, Mays said he enrolled at Wayne County Community College since moving to Piquette Square.

The complex opened last year near the site of the old Studebaker factory, which burned. It is owned and managed by the nonprofit Southwest Housing Solutions and offers comprehensive support services to help house and care for homeless veterans and help them become self-sufficient, so they can reintegrate into the community.

"They're not the people that you need to step over on the street; many of them are not drug addicts," Mays said of his fellow veterans. "They have real issues that need to be addressed. Once addressed, they can become functioning citizens."

The quilting group approached Piquette officials about the donation during the summer. The group's members, which met the first Monday of each month at the library, said they worked on the quilts for the veterans' sake -- and for their own.

Helen Randall, 68, of Farmington Hills said she quilted for the veterans even though her hands are riddled with arthritis.

"It keeps your mind off the pain," she said.

Chery Allen, veterans resource facilitator at Piquette, said the veterans always seem overwhelmed when groups such as the quilters donate their time and handiwork.

"The one continuous message is, they're grateful," Allen said, adding that many of the residents have lived under bridges, in abandoned buildings or in veteran's centers with few services to help them.

"They're grateful to have a place," she said. "One big, huge factor is security. For them, it's like walking into an extreme home makeover. Then they have a homemade quilt."

That feeling of gratitude and holiday spirit is evident at Piquette, Carter said.

"The minute I walked in here in July -- and the same today -- I feel the beauty of this place. The men today exhibit it," she said. "It is a true success story ... This is a very civilized way to help people who have given so much."

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