AKRON, Pa. – Jacqueline Claude-Myers and her sister Ruth Claude know what it is like to be children in need and to receive life-sustaining gifts from a far-off land.
As adults, they now are giving life-sustaining gifts to children and others around the world. They have spent countless volunteer hours creating materials to share through Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) and beyond.
Claude, 81, and Claude-Myers, 72, both of Ephrata, Pa., were 16 and 7 years old respectively when World War II ended in 1945. Though Swiss citizens, their family lived in Belgium.
“War brings lots of sadness, and children were victims (in World War II),” reflected Claude-Myers. Her father started a home for abandoned children at the end of the war in 1945.
He opened the home because there was great need, not because the family was awash in money and possessions. In fact, said Claude, “We had nothing.”
One day, out of the blue, a shipment of supplies arrived. At least, that is how it seemed to Claude-Myers.
“As an 8-year-old child (by then), I knew war,” said Claude-Myers. “But I didn't understand that people would send something like this to us.”
They learned that it was Mennonites who sent the canned meat, milk, quilts, blankets, clothing, crayons and coloring books. MCC had gathered and distributed the shipment.
“I couldn’t believe Mennonites would give us these things,” said Claude, who was delighted by a warm coat. “It was almost unbelievable. It was like we were dreaming.
“I was also thinking, ‘If only I could repay them and give these people something.’”
Claude-Myers added, “When you have nothing (and) when you get something from someone so far away, it becomes yours – a personal gift. That really made an impression.”
Eventually, in stages, most of the family moved to the U.S.
Claude worked for 30 years as a nurse at Ephrata Hospital in the Medical Surgical Unit. Claude-Myers taught French for 30 years at Elizabethtown High School. In their vocations, they touched many lives. They were set on doing so in retirement, too.
“When I came to the U.S. (in 1959), I still wanted to give back in some way for the help we received,” said Claude. “So after retirement, I learned to sew.”
“You didn’t like to sew,” Claude-Myers interjected.
“But I knew I had to do it,” said Claude. “Once I started, I knew I would like it.”
Claude-Myers, on the other hand, always enjoyed sewing. But she, too, had some learning to do.
“Because of the quilts we received, I always wanted to make a quilt, but I didn’t know what it entailed. So I took lessons and learned,” she said.
Claude, meanwhile, became proficient in quilt tops and comforters.
“Both Ruth and Jacqueline are amazing ladies,” said Connie Lapp, Quilt Room supervisor at MCC East Coast’s Material Resources Center in Ephrata. “Just in the 10 years I’ve been here, Ruth has made well over 100 quilt tops. She contributes 10 to 14 annually for the Pennsylvania Relief Sale.
“They are both very humble, unassuming people. What they do is a tremendous gift to people in need. They are two examples among many people who give of themselves in this way.”
Today, Claude-Myers has what might be thought of as an edited version of the blanket MCC gave her brother John while the family was still in Europe. All the family members received a quilt or blanket, which they carried with them when they went from Belgium to Switzerland and then to the U.S.
“When you receive something like this, it brings warmth, alleviates pain. You can wrap yourself in a blanket like this to shield yourself from the tragedy around you,” Claude-Myers said.
John Claude’s family used the blanket for many years. After awhile, it was showing some wear and tear. John Claude gave it to Claude-Myers, who removed some of the frayed blocks and sewed the remaining blocks into one smaller blanket. To her, it is symbolic of important parts of her family’s journey.
John Claude, who lives in North Carolina, participates in his own way in his sisters’ mission. Each year, he sends a check to Claude and Claude-Myers so they can bid at the relief sale in Harrisburg on one or two of the comforters that Claude has made. They buy the comforters on his behalf and give them back to MCC to be sold a second time.
“I often prayed that I would be able to give back someday,” Ruth Claude said. “It’s God’s leading that I came to Ephrata (where an MCC material resources center is located). Unbelievable.”
Are Claude-Myers and Ruth Claude thinking of slowing down and tallying up the ways they have repaid the kindness they received those many years ago?
“You can never ‘repay’ this kindness,” Ruth Claude said. “My purpose in life from retirement ’til I go home is making comforters and quilt tops for the needy.”