To meet Willene Smith is to meet a quilter with a passion. One of the founding members and past president of the Arizona Quilter's Guild and the Strawberry Patchers chapter of the state guild, Willene has been sewing up some serious numbers.
Since 1990 she has seen to it that 2,673 quilts have found their way into the trunks of the Department of Public Safety vehicles statewide. The quilts are used for children in traumatic situations -- and have even been used to comfort elderly and shock victims.
Soon the queen of quilting bees will add 215 making it 2,888 quilts.
"I don't count them until I take them to headquarters," she said.
Most chapters have a charity or a pet project that they tend to, Smith said. Usually these are local crisis centers, humane societies or shelters. Smith saw a need.
"We saw a need for a statewide charity project for a statewide guild. We needed something that all chapters can participate in that would benefit the whole state," said the mother of a DPS officer.
"It is an exception to the rule to have a statewide guild," she added, making it a priority to her to have something that would tie all the chapters together.
There are approximately 800 DPS cars on the road throughout the state, Smith said, and she wants at least one quilt in every car at all times.
Beginning on Wednesday, March 26 Smith marched all the Strawberry Patchers into the Cultural Hall for the annual DPS quilt-a-thon.
The ladies gather material, batting and sewing machines in one place and spend hours cutting, sewing, stitching, tying and laughing -- there is lots of laughter, in spite of the pace Smith sets for her compadres.
"These gals up here are so special. We were so bloomin' tired by the time we were done Friday night," Smith said, sentiments echoed by other members.
"This year the quilts were so beautiful, a lot of gals had some ready to put together the first day we started." A few even took some home to finish.
About 30 ladies donated time over the three days and used 10 rolls of batting and about $1,200 worth material to create colorful children's quilts.
The Patchers create one ‘raffle quilt' each year, selling tickets at craft shows, festivals and fairs all summer.
The proceeds from that quilt are used to buy the material needed.
The end result netted 215 more quilts for the officers on the road.
And they get used and the stories come pouring in to Smith.
She was touched and rewarded recently by a letter from a criminologist.
"You know a lab guy," she said with a laugh.
The officer was at a meth lab bust. "There was a child involved in one of these filthy meth labs," Smith said. "He was on the scene for evidence and he saw one of the officers put a quilt around the baby with nothing on but a dirty diaper."
The officer listed himself as a criminologist, an officer and a father.
"I was very very touched that he wanted to write me and thank me for how it made him feel to see that child comforted by one of our quilts."
There was a family traveling over the holidays when the car caught fire. All of their gifts were burned and the children were given a quilt to comfort them and they became their only gifts.
Another car accident left both parents severely injured and the children left huddling under a quilt having to make do without Mom or Dad.
Many officers report to Smith that having this unique, handmade gift to comfort kids with actually makes their job easier.
"These big old guys tell me, ‘it makes my job easier when I can calm or comfort them'."
"These officers are just someone's son or someone's daddy in that uniform. They have to do a very difficult job in a strenuous situation," she said.
Her passion is making it just a little bit easier on them and the victims.