Isabelle Hétu shows off a colourful Comfort Quilt.   JEFF GAYE

Warmth isn’t just about temperature.

For the past eight years, Isabelle Hétu has been at the forefront of an effort to create quilts for cancer patients. The care and attention that go into each quilt bring special comfort to those who receive them.

“Back in April 2012, there was a teenage girl in town who had cancer. And I thought I’d like to offer her a quilt,” Hétu said. Soon after, she learned of a young mother in the area who was battling cancer, “so I took one out of my ‘stash’ and I gave it to her,” she said.

Hétu had heard of “comfort quilts” programs running in the US and in larger Canadian cities, and decided Bonnyville could use one of its own. She approached the Bonnyville Oilmen’s Society, who donated $900; then she took her fundraising to local businesses. 

The hard cost of each quilt is about $150, not counting the hours and the skill that volunteers donate to cutting and hand-stitching each one. “All of the work that goes into it, and most of the fabric for the tops of the quilts, are all donated by myself or other ladies in the Tangled Threads Quilt Guild,” she said.

So far they have donated 169 quilts, and they have 20 or 30 more on hand. The quilts are given to cancer patients from Bonnyville, and to people who come to Bonnyville from neighbouring communities for cancer treatment.

There’s a small army of volunteers at work making the quilts. 

“Marie-Ange Nadeau and myself, we generally make quite a few per year. And then some of the ladies in the quilt guild will donate one or two per year,” Hétu said. “If I was to count how many specifically, maybe 15 to 20 ladies that have occasionally made some towards this.”

Hétu attaches a special label with a heart and a flower to each quilt identifying it as a Comfort Quilt. She also sends a personal letter with each one, offering encouragement and prayers.

The backs of the quilts are made of a special soft fabric that is warm to the touch. But recipients appreciate that their quilt is more than a warm blanket.

“People send you the greatest cards thank-you cards. It’s very heartwarming,” Hétu said. She recently got a phone call from someone who was having a tough time with her treatments. 

“Today was a day I really needed comfort, so I thought I’d give you a call,” she told Hétu. 

“So you put a label on a quilt and you make sure it gets to her. It’s things like that. But the cards are really heartfelt cards. It’s really, really special.”

Fundraising is an ongoing effort. Hétu understands many local businesses are not in a position to give in the present circumstances, and she is grateful for the generosity the program has received. Her own employer, Lakeland Credit Union, has been the biggest supporter.

But she says her primary concern is getting the word out to people who could use the comfort of a handmade quilt. She is reaching out through local churches and through word-of-mouth.

“We need the awareness that these are there for people who need it. Too often you’ll read and it’s like ‘oh, I didn’t find out about that person, they could have had a quilt.’ You know, that’s exactly the type of candidate that would have benefited from a quilt.”

Hétu says if you or someone you know of would benefit from getting a Comfort Quilt, you are welcome to call her at (780) 826-6019.

Isabelle displays another quilt with a more subdued colour scheme. .   JEFF GAYE