NEWARK (KPIX 5) — Julie Rae Oliver’s house burned down in Fountain Grove. And like many North Bay fire survivors, her family lost everything.
“It’s still shocking,” said Oliver. “There’s probably not a day that goes by that I don’t go, ‘Wow. Our house burned down.'”READ MORE: Antioch Teen Fatally Wounded In Saturday Night Shooting; Angry Crowd Confronts Police
But months later, Oliver is rebuilding her home and her life. Recently, she chose and received a free, handmade quilt for her new home. Her daughter got one for Christmas, and the young girl was thrilled with the beautiful, colorful surprise.
“I put it over her while she was sleeping so she could wake up with this beautiful quilt on her bed,” recalled Oliver. “And just the look of surprise and wonder was just priceless.”
Oliver’s story brings joy to the Gifted Quilters Guild in Newark, a quilt ministry that meets at the First Presbyterian Church of Newark every Tuesday. Many members have made quilts for fire survivors like Oliver.
Meredith Johnson started the project, called “Happiness is a Warm Quilt”. The group has been receiving donations of fabric and quilts from across the county. Volunteer quilters like Bob Vinson take pride in the detailed work.
“It almost broke me down when I watched one lady walk out clutching the quilt,” said Vinson. “That’s a wonderful feeling. This person is really going to enjoy this.”
Many of those who survived the North Bay fires last year lost their homes and virtually all of their possessions. So, the quilters say, each quilt has quickly turned into a labor of love. The quilts are not only a comforting way to help fire survivors begin to rebuild their lives, they are also colorful reminders of the community’s support.READ MORE: 'The Father Is A Hero'; Oakland Man, 1-Year-Old Daughter Die In Horrific Arson Fire
“The quilts aren’t just handed out,” said the group’s founder Meredith Johnson. “People choose them, either in person or online.”
At a recent quilt giveaway at the Charles M. Schultz Museum in Santa Rosa, some fire survivors came to pick up quilts they saw on the group’s “Happiness is a Warm Quilt” Facebook page. Others came to have a look at the available quilts on display. Janet Reisner lost her home in Coffey Park. She found her perfect quilt online and came to the giveaway to pick it up.
“I looked at it online,’ explained Reisner with a smile. “And it just made me feel happy.”
It’s a reaction Meredith Johnson sees frequently. Besides quilts, volunteers have also crafted and given away more than 2,100 handmade pillowcases to elementary school students and teachers affected by the fires.
“It’s just inexpressible, the gratitude,” said Johnson. “They’re living in hotels, or furnished rentals, vacation rentals. Places that are not theirs. Having something you chose that you love transforms your environment.”
Johnson says she’ll continue “Happiness is a Warm Quilt” until every fire survivor who wants a quilt gets one, or until fabric and quilt donations stop. Each quilt costs at least $200 in materials alone. But for recipients like Julie Rae Oliver, the gift is priceless.
“It’s just a constant reminder of how much love has poured out for me, my family, this community,” explained Johnson. “This creates a whole new family heirloom to treasure and pass down to my own family.”MORE NEWS: Video: Solano County Sheriff's K9 Subdues Suspect Fleeing On Foot After High-Speed Pursuit
The group does take requests for quilts. But what is received in donations determines whether it can fulfill the specific request. Information and events are published on the group’s Facebook page.