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Quilting is more than a rewarding hobby for Winnipeg sisters, Anna Neufeld and Elsa Klassen. They were recipients of MCC assistance and now help MCC through quilting quilts that are sold at the Winnipeg MCC Festival and Relief Sale. Alison Ralph

Quilting is more than a rewarding hobby for Winnipeg sisters, Anna Neufeld and Elsa Klassen. They were recipients of MCC assistance and now help MCC through quilting quilts that are sold at the Winnipeg MCC Festival and Relief Sale. Alison Ralph

Handmade baby quilts bring a bundle of joy

Gladys Terichow
June 4, 2008

WINNIPEG, Man. - Many new mothers and grandmothers know that the best place to buy handmade baby quilts is at the Winnipeg MCC Festival and Relief Sale, a sale that takes place June 13 and 14 at the Canadian Mennonite University, 500 Shaftesbury Blvd.

What they don't know is that most of the baby quilts are quilted by two sisters who live in the Donwood Manor complex for elderly people in Winnipeg.

For more than 20 years Anna Neufeld, 87, and her younger sister Elsa Klassen, 85, have made about 30 baby quilts a year for MCC.

"We quilt baby quilts because we have only enough space for a small quilting frame," explained Neufeld.

In addition to quilting in their home the women, who have both lost their husbands, join other quilters every Thursday in the MCC material resources centre in Winnipeg to make larger quilts for the annual sale that raises funds for MCC projects.

The women enjoy the social elements of quilting and the satisfaction of knowing that the sale of beautiful handmade quilts brings smiles of joy and happiness to the people buying the quilts and people receiving the quilts as gifts.

But as they quilt they also reflect on how money raised from the sale of the quilts brings joy and happiness to people experiencing poverty and oppression.

"We were once recipients of MCC assistance and now we can do something for MCC," said Klassen. "We are doing something for MCC - it is not much but we are doing a little bit to help poor people in the world."

The sisters remember their parents talking about the food assistance they received from MCC in the 1920s when they were living in the Soviet Union. They also remember the 1932-1933 famine which claimed the lives of millions of people.

"We were poor as church mice," recalled Neufeld. "I was the oldest of three children. We ate sugar beets and millet - that is what we ate once a day. We cooked it and could hardly wait for the next meal. In the evening we talked about food - we were hungry all the time."

Their father died from pneumonia in 1933, a death that the women feel could have been prevented if their father would have had more clothes, food and money for medicine.

In 1941, when Germany declared war on the Soviet Union, their brother Heinz was shipped to a working camp at the age of 16. "We never heard from him again," said Klassen. Years later the sisters learned that their brother had died in the working camp at the age of 24 years.

Neufeld was married in 1942. The following year the newlywed couple and their infant daughter, along with Klassen and the women's mother, Sarah Regier, escaped from the Soviet Union. They travelled by horse and buggy to the Polish border, a grueling trip that took about three months. They received food and shelter through a network of organizations that were set up to help people fleeing the country.

They lived in Poland for one year and then found refuge in Germany where they spent several years in the Gronau refugee camp. During their stay in Germany they received MCC care packages with canned meat and MCC blankets.

In 1948 they immigrated to Canada. Three years later they became Canadian citizens. "That was a day to celebrate," recalled Neufeld.

When the MCC thrift shop opened on Sargent Avenue in Winnipeg in 1973 both women started working in the thrift shop one day a week. Neufeld has been able to maintain this commitment since the store opened but several years ago Klassen quit working in the shop on a regular basis due to health concerns.

"This year we will have lived in Canada 60 years," said Klassen. "We have so much now and we want to help poor people in this world."

Her sister added: We enjoy doing this - ”what would we do at home? This is good for MCC and it is good for us too."

The women also enjoy spending time with their families. Neufeld has three children, seven grandchildren and 13 great grandchildren and Klassen has two step children and four grandchildren.