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As millions of couples celebrate Valentine's Day with romantic gestures, 1,400 children in foster care will experience the joy of receiving a heart-shaped "prayer pillow" as a symbol that they, too, are loved.

Samaritas, a nonprofit organization in Michigan serving vulnerable populations with about 70 programs in 40 cities across the lower peninsula, has joined forces with Immanuel Lutheran Church, 47120 Romeo Plank in Macomb, to help spread comfort and love to children with the gift of a handmade pillow, created by caring volunteers.

The Rev. Dr. Niklaus Schillack of White Lake, who serves as director of Congregational Engagement for Samaritas, said, "(Valentine's Day) is the time of year when people talk about affection and love. We know through our services to people that love is more holistic than people acknowledge it to be. It's about sacrificing and caring for others. Our mission statement is: 'Serving people as an expression of the Love of Christ.'"

 

"The pillows are going to be a signature piece that goes to children who come into our care -- foster children who deal with terrible circumstances -- to let them know they're not alone. It'll be another piece of helping them heal in the trauma they've experienced."

Macomb resident Shirley Leidecker, organizer of the Immanuel Lutheran Prayer Blanket Ministry, which she started in January 2013, said, "We provide pillows and blankets to those in need who are hurting emotionally, physically and spiritually. Over the holidays, we stuffed 2,250 pillows and they all went to Samaritas." Fourteen hundred pillows will go to children in foster care, and the remainder will be donated throughout the rest of the year to other Samaritas programs."

There are about 24 members in the ministry, most of whom meet regularly on Thursday mornings, from 9 a.m.-noon, inside the church's men's club building. "One of our gals said, 'When we meet, it's kind of like an old-fashioned quilting bee, where we get to socialize and do something for others,'" said Leidecker.

The other members prefer to work on the pillows and blankets at home all yearlong, however, Leidecker noted, "We try to get the whole congregation involved in stuffing pillows once a year for a family activity on a Sunday morning inside the community center at the church." 

Leidecker said the fleece pillows are made by cutting heart shapes that measure approximately 16 inches across at the widest point, using a print fabric for the front, complimented by a solid color as the back. "Those two pieces are fringed all the way around. The fringe for the two layers are then tied together, leaving a small opening. The pillow is then stuffed with polyester fiberfill, and tied shut (with the remaining fringe)." 

The pillows are referred to as "prayer pillows' because as they work in "various stages," Leidecker said, "We pray over the materials and for the people who will receive them." 

Attached to each pillow is a hangtag that reads: "This item was handmade for you by our Prayer Blanket Ministry. We prayed over this item and asked Jesus to stay close to you. We asked him to keep you safe and to make you strong. We prayed that you would always know that Jesus loves you. This item comes from our heart to your heart."

This year marks the first time the ministry has donated pillows for distribution on Valentine's Day. We do this (make pillows) year-round. We constantly send out pillows and blankets. We give out probably 50 blankets and 30-40 pillows a week," said Leidecker, "We gave out over 5,000 pillows and blankets last year!" Recipients have included area hospitals, infusion centers, Detroit Rescue Mission, fire departments, disaster relief, and other foster children programs. 

Where does the money come from for supplies used to make the many pillows and blankets they produce? "It's all donated," she said. "We're not in the church budget, so it's all completely donated."

To make a donation, call Emmanuel Lutheran Church office at (586) 286-4231, or to give of your time in helping the ministry make pillows and blankets, feel free to join members any Thursday morning inside the men's club building of the church at 47120 Romeo Plank in Macomb.

Detroit News columnist Jocelynn Brown is a longtime Metro Detroit crafter. You can reach her at (313) 222-2150, jbrown@detroitnews.com or facebook.com/DetroitNewsHandmade.

Contact Emmanuel Lutheran Church at (586) 286-4231 or immlutheran.org/church; or Samaritas at samaritas.org.  

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