Each year hundreds of families walk through the doors of the Ronald McDonald House in Memphis, Tennessee, which serves as a home away from home for families of those being treated at St. Jude Children's Research Hospital.
In August 2010, a two-year-old girl named Avery walked through the doors with her parents, sister and grandparents. Earlier that year, she had been diagnosed with a large tumor on her brain stem. Her family spent two months living at the Ronald McDonald House while Avery received care.
Years later, Thrivent member Sarah Storvick faced her own cancer diagnosis in 2015 which resulted in chemo, radiation and surgery. "They always give you a warm blanket before surgery and in treatment rooms," she says.
"And when you're receiving treatment, a warm blanket truly is a blanket of love."
One of the side effects of cancer treatment is a constant chill. So while the Ronald McDonald house is a warm and loving place with a piano, a playground, and lots books, a homemade blanket welcomes each child when he or she arrives. "That blanket follows them through chemo, blood draws, surgery, clinic appointments and in-patient hospital stays," says Avery's grandmother, Donna Bolles. For many patients a warm, fuzzy blanket isn't just nice to have – it is a necessity.
Sherri Maxey, director of operations at the Ronald McDonald House, recalls sharing their need for blankets with Donna. "She saw how we provided for the families," Maxey says, "and she went to her community and got people involved in making blankets."
In 2011, Bolles requested donations for fabric and recruited volunteers. Her efforts resulted in the Avery's Blanket of Love Ministry, Inc., which creates quilts, fleece-tie blankets and pillowcases for children battling cancer and other illnesses.
A lesson in giving and receiving
Storvick learned about the opportunity to make blankets through a member of her church as they were planning activities for a children's day camp. The thought of doing something to comfort kids and their families immediately appealed to her. "I think my own cancer was hard enough as an adult," she says. "It's even more horrible when it strikes children."
Children's ministry comes with a pretty lean budget, so Storvick applied to lead a Thrivent Action Team to purchase the fleece needed for the blankets. And in July 2016, 17 kids gathered to make 10 blankets. "It was heartwarming," says Storvick. "The kids were passionate about serving and about the children who would receive the blankets."
Following the event, Storvick experienced a lesson in receiving herself when the kids made her a blanket knowing she was facing her own cancer treatment.
"When we have some support and encouragement there really are no limits to living generously."
Another small tumor was discovered in 2014 when Avery returned to St. Jude for a follow-up appointment. Avery received additional treatment to shrink the new tumor and her last scan in the fall of 2016 showed no evidence of disease. Today Avery is vibrant and healthy.
Avery's Blanket of Love continues to pay it forward – to date, it has made more than 2,200 blankets. "Avery's story has changed a lot of people. It is amazing to see a child receive a blanket and to know how much that blanket means to them," says Bolles. "Joy truly does come from heartache."
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