Kathy Antoniotti

They wander into the sewing room at Firestone Park Community Center from noon to 6 p.m. each Tuesday as schedules allow.

For the women (and occasional man) in the center’s Service Sewing group, quilting is a passion that complements their desire to comfort people with hand-made goods.

On a recent Tuesday, sewing machines hummed as five members of the group gathered to make such stitched items as lap blankets for nursing home patients and small bags, called “pretty pockets,” to hold surgical site drains for women who have undergone breast surgery.

“I’ve personally had experience with breast surgery, so I know they were a good idea,” said Janet Bryant, group leader and instructor for the center for the past seven years.

Conversations never lag as the women piece together blocks and strips of fabric, making intricately designed quilts to give away. They might discuss minor details of their day or major issues of their lives.

“I think its like a modern-day sewing circle. We talk about our ills, our husbands, our children and everything else,” said Bryant, whose husband, Dave, served as the area’s councilman for 17 years.

The members of the group also share a desire to help people in meaningful ways, said Peg Oliver, who joined last winter. She spoke with compassion about women she will never meet who will receive duffle bags she was creating out of donated curtain fabric.

“We take them to Harvest Home and ACCESS, “ she said. “The women are there with their children — battered, abused, leaving everything they own behind. They are very grateful for everything,” Oliver said.

Each family staying at the Ronald McDonald House to be close to a sick child in Akron Children’s Hospital receives a quilt from the group as a gesture of comfort in a trying time.

On Tuesday, the Bryants presented a baby-sized quilt to Shannon Findley of Columbus, who has been living at Ronald McDonald House since August, when her baby was transferred from a Boardman hospital to the neonatal intensive-care unit at Children’s.

A’Kira Hunter weighed only 410 grams (less than a pound) when doctors determined that neither she nor mom would survive if Findley carried the baby to her Oct. 28 due date. And while the child remains very ill, she now weighs 5 pounds, 8 ounces.

Findley said she was very grateful for the quilt and all the many ways the hospital has made her feel as if she has a home away from home.

“I think this is awesome they do this,” she said of the pink-and-white rag quilt that was placed atop A’Kira’s incubator.

The women who created the quilt, mostly members of the Firestone Park neighborhood, are united by things that make them more similar than different, they say.

“It’s surprising, sometimes, when you learn someone shares your same feelings,” Bryant said.

Service Sewing member Kathy Trenta spent a recent afternoon focused on creating large terry cloth bibs for nursing home residents with a handy pocket to catch that stray pea or carrot.

Trenta, who joined the group about four months ago, was raised in the neighborhood surrounding the former Firestone Tire & Rubber Co., now Bridgestone Americas.

“I like piecing all the fabrics together, and I like doing quilts. I like any kind of needlework,” she said.

Bryant, who estimates that she has taught hundreds of people how to sew, retired from Akron General Medical Center after 42 years of nursing. She also leads the center’s Sew n’ Sews quilting group three times each week and teaches two quilting classes in the summer for students age 9-18. On Mondays, she leads a quilting group at the Tallmadge Recreation Center.

“If I wasn’t here, I’d be volunteering somewhere else,” Bryant said. “And this is so much fun.”

Kathy Antoniotti can be reached at 330-996-3565 or kantoniotti@thebeaconjournal.com. Follow on Twitter at: @KathyAntoniotti and on facebook: www.facebook.com/KathyAntoniotti.