OUR COMMUNITY: Volunteer quilter Elly Van Oenen

Elly Van Oenen uses recycled fabric to create more than 100 quilts per year and donate them to Ukranians in need.

Elly Van Oenen displays a few of the 325 quilts that she's made and donated to the Ukraine.

Elly Van Oenen displays a few of the 325 quilts that she's made and donated to the Ukraine.

You might guess that a woman who donates 100+ quilts per year would have an ample personal collection as well, but instead she keeps only one. “It was the first one I ever made,” Elly explains, and it is the only one that she calls her own.

Elly Van Oenen, a retired children’s clothing maker, crafted her first quilt at age 65. Little did she know that her quilts would soon end up in the thankful hands of hundreds of people in need, on the other side of the world.

Elly had always been troubled by images she’d seen of orphaned Ukranian children in steel cribs, without blankets to keep warm. When she moved to Chilliwack in 2011, Elly was in search of a way to get her quilts to to help these people, and it it wasn’t long before she found it.

With transportation help from Nel Neef, also from Chilliwack, the quilts, along with piles of donated clothing, shoes and other textiles are brought to Bellingham Slavic Gospel Church. “The women there are so happy when we bring them in,” Elly explains proudly “and it’s a joy every time I pass them along”.

From there, volunteers package and ship boxes of donations to Moldova in the Ukraine, where the items are then safely distributed to churches, orphanages, and nursing homes where people are in need.

Elly receives recycled fabric donations from many sources, “we can use everything” she says. Retired quilters provide their unused materials, mothers bring second-hand clothes to the church, and she even takes in curtains and bumper pads to add to the stockpiles in her closets.

After a wash and an iron, Elly organizes all the fabric into bundles, which will soon be transformed into a quilts.

Elly with quilts to donateOn her own, Elly has made and donated 325 quilts in the past 3 years. Her quilting partner, Greta Beekman, has also generously contributed 100 quilts to this altruistic cause. “It’s my hobby too, so I love it” Elly explains, “especially when you know that this is going to people who will get so much joy and warmth out of it”

Depending on the size, “it takes about 3 days to create one quilt, working 7 hours per day,” Elly explains. She often quilts for 6 days per week. “But I don’t do it alone” she is quick to point out, “there are many people who donate time and fabric.”

The days where she isn’t quilting are often filled with birthday parties and family events for her 25 grandchildren and 32 great-grandchildren, many of whom Elly has taught to sew as well.

Perhaps the most rewarding moment for Elly is when she and Nel receive thank you letters and photographs from those they’ve helped in the Ukraine. “I am so thankful that I’ve found a way to get the quilts to the children in east Ukraine. We have so much and they have so little.”


Just Posted

Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema, a member of the Canadian national women’s soccer squad.
Another scoreless draw for Chilliwack’s Jordyn Huitema and Canadian national women’s soccer squad

Canada played Brazil to a 0-0 tie days after doing the same in a friendly against the Czech Republic

FVRD surveyed public opinion on cannabis production and processing in the electoral areas. Odour and distance from residential areas were the top concerns. (Black Press file)
Cannabis production and processing rules being drafted by Fraser Valley Regional District

Data from public opinion survey will be used to guide cannabis-related land use

Robert Nelson, 35, died after being stabbed at a homeless camp in Abbotsford on April 7 of this year.
Mom pleads for information about son’s killing at Abbotsford homeless camp

Robert Nelson, 35, described as ‘man who stood for justice, honour, respect’

Chilliwack firefighters watch as an O’Connor Towing operator removes a stolen Volkswagen station wagon from the Fraser River off Cannor Road in west Chilliwack on June 13, 2021. (William Snow photo)
PHOTOS: Stolen vehicle dumped in Fraser River in Chilliwack Sunday

Search and Rescue determined there was no one inside the car found upside down off Cannor Road

Police arrest the suspect in an attempted armed bank robbery on June 2 at the Scotiabank at Gladwin Road and South Fraser Way in Abbotsford. (Photo by Garry Amyot)
Abbotsford bank robbery suspect who was stopped by customers faces more charges

Neil Simpson now faces total of eight charges, up from the initial two

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau participates in a plenary session at the G7 Summit in Carbis Bay, England on Friday June 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Adrian Wyld
Canada donating 13M surplus COVID-19 vaccine doses to poor countries

Trudeau says the government will pay for 87 million shots to be distributed to poor countries

Kelowna-Lake Country MLA Norm Letnick, assistant deputy speaker at the B.C. legislature, presides over committee discussions. The legislature is completing its delayed spring session this week, with most MLAs participating by video conference. (Hansard TV)
B.C.’s daily COVID-19 infections dip below 100 over weekend

Only 68 new cases recorded Monday, four additional deaths

The BC Ferries website went down for a short while Monday morning following a provincial announcement that recreational travel between health authorities can resume Tuesday. (Black Press Media file photo)
BC Ferries’ website crashes in wake of provincial reopening announcement

Website back up now, recreational travel between health regions to resume as of Tuesday

The Kamloops Indian Residential School is photographed using a drone in Kamloops, B.C., Monday, June, 14, 2021. The remains of 215 children were discovered buried near the former school earlier this month. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Communities grapple with what to do with former residential and day schools

Some tear them down as a tool to help healing, others repurpose them as tools for moving forward

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

FILE – Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry talks about B.C.’s plan to restart the province during a press conference at Legislature in Victoria, Tuesday, May 25, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Chad Hipolito
B.C. watching U.K.’s COVID struggles but don’t think province will see similar pitfalls

Studies show that one dose of vaccine is only 33 per cent effective in preventing B.1.617.2 spread

RCMP Const. Shelby Patton is shown in this undated handout photo. RCMP say that Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over on Saturday morning in Wolseley, east of Regina. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO, RCMP
Pair charged in Saskatchewan Mountie’s death make first court appearance

Const. Shelby Patton was hit by an allegedly stolen truck that he had pulled over Saturday morning

David and Collet Stephan leave for a break during an appeal hearing in Calgary on Thursday, March 9, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Todd Korol
Appeal Court rejects stay for Alberta couple facing third trial in son’s death

Pair accused in their earlier trials of not seeking medical attention for their son sooner

Highway notices like this come down effective June 14. Public health restrictions on non-essential travel and commercial operation have hit local businesses in every corner of B.C. (B.C. government)
Province-wide travel back on in B.C.’s COVID-19 restart plan

Gathering changes include up to 50 people for outdoor events

Most Read