One year after deadly tornado, quilters patching up their community

BRUNSWICK COUNTY (WWAY) — After losing one of their own to a fatal tornado a year ago today, the Ocean Ridge Quilters are using their skills to patch  up a community.

Melanie Kelley, Debbie Krzywicki, and Carol Dunham say Phyllis O’Connor was a force of nature. She was a woman on a mission to help her area and beyond with her talents. According to quilting co-chair Kelley, the beginning of last year was no different.

“Phil came to our quilt meeting one day and said… ok, this is what we’re going to do,” Kelley remembered. “Rose House is a substance abuse house. It’s being built for women who have substance abuse problems to help them get beyond those and live their lives. We’re going to provide something cheery and pretty for them in each of their rooms.”

And so the great quilting caper began. Together, the group sewed around 30 quilts, 25 of which O’Connor stored in her home as they waited for Rose House to open.

A massive tornado tore through the community February 15, 2021, killing Phyllis, her husband, and scattering her work to the wind. It seemed all hope was lost until one quilt turned up miles away in Ashe.

After that, Dunham said, “We laundered it, and took care of it, did some mending, and made sure it got there. And then, another quilt was found. And then another. And so we are up to 18 quilts.”

Instead of folding, the ladies worked diligently to locate and fix quilts, some of which were torn, muddied, or burned, surviving an EF 3 tornado and the elements. The quilters and friends believe O’Connor would do the exact same thing.

“She would be tickled to death that we picked up her project and we didn’t let it blow away with the tornado,” said Dunham.

Quilting circles in Myrtle Beach, Oak Island, St. James, and Calabash donated dozens of quilts. Between their donations and the Ocean Ridge Quilters’ work, they’ve collected more than 100 quilts for tornado victims, recovering female addicts in the Rose House, and children of addicts in a program called the Waccamaw House.

While the quilts have been through a lot, Dunham hopes they impart some hope.

“They too can survive. This is about courage and strength and that there are women outside of their predicament that are here to support them and to provide something comforting.”

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