HUNTINGTON — Since needle was first taken to thread, women have been gathering to make the world a better place.

On Saturday, a group of sewers from across the Tri-State and beyond gathered at Sacred Heart Catholic Church in Huntington to make pillowcases for children staying in area hospitals.

For six years now, the Huntington chapter of Ryan's Case for Smiles has made approximately 1,750 special pillowcases at the sewing circle event. They made 525 last year and hoped to make more than 600 Saturday. By noon they had made 300. Within 30 minutes, they had already made 50 more.

Ryan's Case for Smiles is a national organization created in 2007 by the parents of Ryan Kerr, who died after a battle with osteosarcoma, which he was diagnosed with at age 12. The nonprofit works to give an emotional boost to kids and their families dealing with childhood illness, hoping to reduce the trauma of a hospital stay.

The pillowcases are made with fabric with designs like unicorns, Disney and other popular characters, trucks and flowers - anything that might interest someone staying in a children's hospital, which means birth to 18.

The fabric was donated by Heidi Smithers of Sew Many Blessings Quilt Shop, along with some sewing machines. Eileen Farren, co-organizer with Sacred Heart, said the volunteers are "fabric-holics" and delight in seeing the different patterns as only a sewer could.

"The fabrics really add to the fun," Farren said. "One lady was just saying she can't wait until she gets another packet and sees what fabric she will be working on. She said, 'If I didn't have this colorful fabric to work on, it would be really boring. Not that I don't enjoy talking with all of you!' It's really like an old-fashioned sewing bee because once you get into the routine of the pinning, then they are enjoying the chats with their new friends."

Kathleen Gross, co-organizer of the event, said the goal of the pillowcases is to bring smiles to sick children.

"I went to donate pillowcases at CAMC and there was a little girl - she's attached to a pole and she was fussing," Gross said. "She was right outside. I usually just give (the pillowcases) to a social worker, but she was fussing and fussing. I said to her mother, 'Do you think she would like a pillowcase?' Mom said, 'Well, maybe.' We opened the bag and she wouldn't pick a pillowcase, but her mother said she loves Paddington Bear. Now it would be nice to say she stopped fussing, but she didn't. But I think we really made her mother feel good and I think later she would realize."

The pillowcases are made in an assembly line, with groups working on each stage of creation, from sewing to ironing. They are made to withstand the many washings a pillowcase of an ill child would need.

"That doesn't mean we don't take time to eat, or time to stop and chat," Gross said. "We laugh and eat. I think we started with coffee and doughnuts this morning."

"We also always have to have a chocolate break," Farren said.

The event coincides with National Childhood Cancer Awareness Month, which is observed in September.

The Huntington/Charleston chapter will continue to donate pillowcases throughout the year to children at Cabell Huntington Hospital and the Charleston Area Medical Center. For Halloween and Christmas, they will deliver seasonal-themed pillowcases. Last year, they distributed about 1,500 pillowcases.

Visit www.caseforsmiles.org to learn more about Ryan's Case for Smiles.

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