'It doesn't take much'

Jean Marie Woods, of Bridgman, has volunteered almost 50 hours this past year with the United Way of Southwest Michigan to sew 70 pillowcases to be distributed to area foster children amd domestic safe shelters. 

BRIDGMAN — Jean Marie Woods of Bridgman doesn’t think of herself as a very good seamstress. 

“I sew a lot, but I can’t really do things that are crazy,” she said. 

But that doesn’t stop her from volunteering with the United Way of Southwest Michigan to make pillowcases for area foster kids and homeless and domestic safe shelters.

Over the last year, she’s volunteered about 50 hours to sew 70 pillowcases for distribution. 

The United Way is using her as an example of anyone being able to use any of their talents to volunteer with them.

Woods, who has her own sewing room in her basement, has not only made pillowcases, but fidget and weighted blankets for people with dementia and has recently tried her hand at drawstring backpacks.

Herald-Palladium Staff Writer Alexandra Newman sat down with Woods recently to find out how she got started volunteering and what she would say to others who’d like to volunteer. 

How did you get involved with making the pillowcases?

I saw an interview on TV with the YWCA when I was living near South Bend and they talked about the women having to leave domestic violence situations without much with them, so I just thought it’d be nice if the kids had something, like pillowcases.

I looked it up and found a pattern that was easy for me to do, and flannel was really fun for the kids, so I just started making them and took them there and they seemed to like them. I did that for a couple of years before we moved up here. So now I’m doing it with the United Way.

What brought you to this area?

Steve (husband) and I always wanted to move up here when we retired. I’ve brought my grandkids up to Weko Beach for the last 15 years. We’d always come up to St. Joe on the weekends when we could. So we always thought this would be a place where we retired. Steve works at Whirlpool and he kept saying he saw houses for sale. Then we talked to a Realtor and put our house on the market, sold it and moved up here. We really didn’t want to do this for another couple of years, but it just happened.

Have you always sewn?

I’ve sewn for a long time, but it wasn’t anything I pursued heavily. I sewed a little bit when my kids were little and I kind of got out of it and I just started it again. I’ll do some quilt tops and things that are pretty simple. It makes a good use of my time.

What has it been like being involved with the United Way?

Sara (Barlow, impact project coordinator) has been wonderful. I just called and I got her. They’ve been thrilled with the pillowcases and she explains to me where they go: to foster kids and other programs that they have. So I just try to make a dozen a month and get up there.

What does it feel like to give back?

It’s hard for me in a way because I don’t ever see anyone. I kinda like that, because I’m not directly involved in anything. But I do like when I have down time and I’m able to do something like make the pillowcases. I don’t even know how to describe it. It’s not like I get thrilled by what I’m doing, but I’m very happy to be able to do it. I’m happy that my husband is all right with my fabric purchases. The girls at the United Way make you feel very appreciated for what you do. It’s got to be very hard what they do too.

Last Christmas, my granddaughter got a bunch of toys on sale. I took it up to Sara and they’d just gotten another family that didn’t have anything for Christmas. I was so happy she was able to do that. So, like Valentine’s Day is done, so all of those stuffed toys are cheap, so I just started throwing them in a bucket and if it’ll make a difference.

I forget that our family is so blessed that we don’t worry about not having anything for Christmas. We’ve adopted families for Christmas and my kids adopt families too. We’ve always kind of done the family things. This is just kind of anonymous, which is good.

What would you say to someone who might be considering volunteering?

If you have time and you really think you’d like to do something, it seems to make a big difference and it doesn’t take very much. I don’t think these pillowcases are very hard to do and they’re cute as can be because the fabrics are cute. I’m just putting them together and I guess it can make a big difference. You hear all the time that opening a door or smiling at someone can make a big difference when you don’t really think it does. I’d just say try it for a while and just see how it works out for you.

Sometimes in the summertime it’s not easy for me to go down in that basement. So sometimes I do make myself do it. It must be the reaction I’m getting from the girls at United Way that make it really worthwhile and I know how hard they’re working to keep people safe and taken care of. It doesn’t take much.

What else do you do in your free time?

I like to work in the yard and read. Now that we’re up here we get to go places all the time. Michigan is a beautiful state and there are so many places to go and things to do. My grandchildren are a high priority for me. I have two sons and eight grandchildren. And my oldest (grandchild), who is 24, has a daughter. So we have great-grandma Thursdays and I go over there. Everyone loves the beach. I spend a lot of time with them. And then I still work three days a week cleaning houses in South Bend and Granger.

To see how you can use one of your special skills to volunteer with the UWSM, contact Julee Laurent at 932-3566 or julee.laurent@uwsm.org.

Contact: anewman@TheHP.com, 932-0357, Twitter: @HPANewman