The Stitching Sisters are hoping that finding a new home won't be as difficult as searching for a needle in a haystack.

The group, which since its start in 2004 has sewed and distributed more than 26,000 quilts to patients undergoing chemotherapy treatment at the Arthur G. James Cancer Hospital, was forced to vacate its sewing center at donated space at 635 Brooksedge Blvd. in Westerville when the building was sold.

"We've got a nice stockpile of about 1,000 quilts, so we have a couple of months before things get dire," said project coordinator Joanne Lester.

The sewing center has been where "we gather together to work on our quilt projects," she said. "It's where we store our fabric and quilt kits and the tops that are ready for quilting."

Lester started the Stitching Sisters in 2004 when she was working as a nurse practitioner caring for breast cancer patients at the James.

"Chemotherapy can be an unsettling, frightening thing, especially when you're starting it for the first time," she said.

Frequently adding to the uneasiness is the chill patients feel from the fluids administered as part of their IV treatment.

"The patients would talk about how cold they felt during their treatment," Lester said.

"It gave me the idea of doing something to bring some comfort to patients undergoing breast cancer treatment," said the Grove City resident, who retired from nursing two years ago.

Lester and a group of oncology patients created the first batch of quilts.

The project quickly grew and now members of the Stitching Sisters provide quilts to patients undergoing treatment for all forms of cancer at the James.

"It just took off, because of our wonderful group of volunteers and an army of silent angels that have joined our effort," Lester said.

At the Westerville location, group members would gather two or three times a week to create quilts, she said.

Many more volunteers would work on projects at home, Lester said.

Many of the Stitching Sisters are cancer survivors.

That roster includes Grove City resident Carol Fornof, who joined the group four years ago after she moved to central Ohio from Toledo.

She said she thought she understood the impact of the Stitching Sisters until she was diagnosed with breast cancer last summer.

"There I was, at the James, going through my treatment and I'm given a quilt made by the Stitching Sisters," Fornof said. "It was so cheerful, comforting and warm. I still have it. It's still a source of comfort and joy."

Then there was the reaction she saw from other patients.

"You talk to each other to support and comfort each other and I would mention that I was a member of the Stitching Sisters," Fornof said.

"Not trying to get attention, just mentioning it -- and they would start telling me about how much our group's quilt meant to them. They'd get a big smile on their faces," she said.

Leslie Dunlea is a nurse at the Stefanie Spielman Comprehensive Breast Center.

"I help distribute the quilts to all of our patients," she said. "It's like a great big hug in the form of a quilt."

The Stitching Sisters make the quilts in a variety of colors and patterns, from those with floral images to lighthearted patterns featuring animals and cartoonish figures, Dunlea said.

"We can ask them what their favorite color is and if it's blue, I can show them four or five blue quilts and they can pick the one they like best," she said.

"When a patient can pick a quilt they really like, that's in their favorite color or features an animal they like, it just makes it that much more comforting for them,"she said.

Many patients take their quilts home with them, then bring it back when they return for their next treatment, Dunlea said.

The group hopes to find a new home in the greater Columbus area, Lester said.

"We need a safe space that can provide at least 2,500 square feet or more, that has good lighting, and ideally, no stairs," she said. "And most importantly, since we're a 501(c)(3) group, we need a place we can use at no cost."

Anyone who might have a suitable space can contact Lester at 614-519-8995 or stitchingsistersohio@gmail.com.

More information about the group is available at glester111.wixsite.com/jamesstitchingsister.

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