Its founder Betty Nielsen greeted the women with much enthusiasm. The women were surrounded by a mass of quilts, which transformed the Freedom Quilts building into a patriotic sea of red, white, and blue fabric. Shortly after the attacks that changed our nation forever, Nielsen decided to comfort broken hearts across the United States. She has taken on the daunting task of presenting handmade patriotic quilts to the families of each of the more than 5,000 victims of the September 2001 attacks.
Betty Nielsen receives help from her husband Dennis, fellow quilters, and donations of labor, quilt materials and funding from volunteers throughout the nation. Within one year of the 2001 attacks, the Nielsens had created, received and shipped over 1,700 personally labeled Freedom Quilts to New York City for distribution to the families of Sept. 11th victims. The couple traveled to New York City in September 2002 to personally distribute many of the quilts, while ABC News covered the presentation as part of a September 11 anniversary documentary. The couple also visited the Riverdale firehouse in New York.
In December 2001, the farming couple made their first trip to New York City and presented quilts to victims' families on Good Morning America. According to Betty, this trip felt like she became the designated comforter to the mourning masses. Her project started with creating one quilt for the family of each victim; but after seeing the expressions on people's faces who received the quilts, she realized that one quilt per family was not enough. Today, the Nielsens make a quilt for each member of the victim's family.
Betty Nielsen was not originally a quilter, other than having taken a few classes to learn the basics before Sept. 11. That day made her resolved to make a difference by commemorating the honor of each victim. Eventually, Betty and Dennis came to the Founding of Freedom Quilts.
Talking to families of the victims and receiving so many letters thanking them for the quilts have kept them focused on the project, and the painstaking care with which each Freedom Quilt is created. The Nielsens have collected drawers full of touching letters, e-mails, and drawings from the families of victims; letting them know just how important their gesture is.
While numerous quilt blocks are separately created or donated to the NIelsens, Betty often designs her own; while Dennis runs the organization's website and bookkeeping, creates block designs on the family computer and his embroidery machine, using patriotic photographs, and designs, utilizing anything the family of the victim may have sent to be used in their quilt.
The Nielsens are well on the way to their goal, having already taken or sent out over 6,000 Freedom Quilts. Each quilt is special and unique, something which each recipient would be proud to own and pass on down to their own children. Betty was quick to point out that her help and endless energy come from her belief in God and His guidance with the quilts.
The Nielsen farm received some damage from the Mapleton tornado, one machine shed had to be rebuilt; but the Freedom Quilts building received no damage.
The Nielsen's newest project is a huge quilt which will travel with Betty to numerous fairs around Iowa. The quilt reads Iowa Has Not Forgotten! People and groups may sign the quilt for $5.00. This quilt will eventually be placed in a Memorial Museum in New York City across from where the Twin Towers stood.
From their trip to the Freedom Quilters farm, the members of Pilot Rock Chapter DAR gained a new appreciation for a lady from small town Iowa, who in New York has become known as The Quilt Lady.
Besides donations sent from as far away as Japan and Alaska, even more help is needed in the form of labor, expenses and supplies. Donations may be sent to: Freedom Quilts, 13637 550th Street, Fonda, Iowa 50540.
We can still help touch the lives of those who lost loved ones in the terrorists' attacks.