Borough business opens doors to Quilts that Care

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Deborah Van Steenbergen fluffs a quilt inside her new warehouse space in Naugatuck.  Steenbergen, of Watertown, is the founder of Quilts That Care, which brings volunteers together to make quilts for cancer patients in treatment. She says the idea is to let them know that they aren't alone. -RA ARCHIVE
Deborah Van Steenbergen fluffs a quilt inside her new warehouse space in Naugatuck. Steenbergen, of Watertown, is the founder of Quilts That Care, which brings volunteers together to make quilts for cancer patients in treatment. She says the idea is to let them know that they aren’t alone. -RA ARCHIVE

NAUGATUCK — Deborah Van Steenbergen wants every cancer patient to be cared for the way her late husband was.

Van Steenbergen founded Quilts that Care, a group that makes quilts for patients undergoing chemotherapy or radiation, last March while her husband Bob was fighting brain cancer. Bob Van Steenbergen died in August at age 55, but his legacy is growing as the group quickly gains members. It will expand next month into donated space in the Gar Kenyon industrial building on Water Street.

“This is my journey for him,” Deborah Van Steenbergen said.

Van Steenbergen, who lives in Watertown, has quilted for decades, and said her husband and family members always had quilts to remind them of her love. She said she would accompany her husband to radiation sessions at the Harold Leever Regional Cancer Center in Waterbury, where she saw some patients with no one to accompany them or drive them home.

“It upset me to see so many people alone,” Van Steenbergen said. “It broke my heart.”

So she started Quilts that Care with her cousin, Mirya Catanzaro of New Britain, and three other women who met to quilt at the Leever center. Their goal was to make 12 quilts by the end of 2012, Van Steenbergen said.

About 35 more people joined the group. By the end of the year they had made 107 quilts.

Now the group is working to become an incorporated nonprofit with a goal to make 200 quilts in 2013, Van Steenbergen said.

 Mirya Catanzaro of New Britain is the vice president of Quilts That Care. She sits inside the new Naugatuck warehouse space donated to the organization, which supports cancer patients by giving them homemade quilts. -RA ARCHIVE
Mirya Catanzaro of New Britain is the vice president of Quilts That Care. She sits inside the new Naugatuck warehouse space donated to the organization, which supports cancer patients by giving them homemade quilts. -RA ARCHIVE

To achieve that, they needed a space to call their own — unlike the room in the Leever center, where they spent lots of precious time setting up at the beginning of every meeting and packing fabric back into boxes at the end, Catanzaro said.

Steven Fournier, president and CEO of Gar Kenyon, offered the group a room on the second floor of 238 Water St., which they are setting up this month with tables, chairs and shelves to store fabric.

“If we’re in the middle of a project, all we have to do is lock the door and walk away,” Catanzaro said.

The group has given quilts to patients at the Leever center, Saint Mary’s Hospital in Waterbury, Charlotte Hungerford Hospital in Torrington, Lawrence & Memorial Hospital in New London and the Smilow Cancer Hospital at Yale-New Haven.

The space in the borough will probably become the group’s hub, but Van Steenbergen said she wants to find satellite spaces along the shoreline and in the central and western parts of the state. Quilters working there can build relationships with hospitals in those areas so more people will receive quilts.

The group will meet Monday at the Leever center and is planning another meeting next month in their new borough space. They will continue to meet in both places at least once or twice a month.

The group now needs tables and chairs for their new space, as well as fabrics, battings, rotary cutters, cutting mats and a vacuum cleaner. To donate or volunteer, subscribe to the group’s Facebook page, call Van Steenbergen at (860) 945-0184 or email quiltsthatcare.deb@gmail.com.