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Blog: Stories and Insight

Making A Better World One Stitch at a Time

Volunteering During a Pandemic

Sewing memory bears, masks*, fidget cloths, and adult clothing protectors is one of the many ways volunteers give to Samaritan.

As Nelson Mandela said, “It is in your hands to make a better world for all who live in it.”

Mandela may have been speaking figuratively, but these crafty volunteers take great pride in using their hands to make Samaritan’s world a better place . . . one stitch at a time.

Most notably are Volunteers Ann Alfano, Lorraine McGill, Judy Taylor, and Peggy Heisler whose stories begin with a longtime passion for sewing, continues thanks to dedication and selflessness, and ends with hand-crafted tokens in the homes – and hearts – of Samaritan patients and families.


Ann Alfano in her sewing room.

Samaritan volunteer Ann Alfano has spent her lifetime sewing thanks to her mom teaching her at an early age.

She sews memory bears, adult clothing protectors, clothing, tote bags, and other crafts. In fact, she’s made hundreds of masks since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

But, the memory bears and adult clothing protectors have a special place in her heart. She stitches these heartfelt memory bears for bereaved family members out of their loved one’s clothing to create lasting, sentimental keepsakes.

And, recently, thanks to a Veteran friend who sponsored her fabric purchase, she sewed adult clothing protectors in his honor for Samaritan Veteran patients. Ann carefully chose fabrics in red, white, and blue or with stars and stripes to create these patriotic, useful items. Adult clothing protectors offer functional help for caregivers by making clean up easy by shielding clothing and catching spills.

“Volunteering is a big part of my life,” said Ann, who also maintains a full-time job at American Water. “I truly believe that it is in giving that we receive, and it’s my privilege to make these items for Samaritan patients and families.”

adult food protectors
Patriotic-themed adult clothing protectors sewn by Ann Alfano.
keepsake memory bears
Memory bears sewn by Ann Alfano.

Samaritan is also grateful for Ann utilizing American Water’s Employee and Matching Gift Program. This program assists American Water employees in their own charitable efforts by matching gifts and volunteer time with a monetary donation to the charity of choice. As a not-for-profit provider, donations help Samaritan sustain its mission of service.

Finally, Ann serves as a connecting thread to other Samaritan volunteers and initiatives. Not only does she purchase fabric from Samaritan Thrift where proceeds benefit patients and families, she pays forward her extra fabric by giving remnants to fellow sewing volunteers, Lorraine McGill and Peggy Heisler. [Story continued below.]

Celebrating Volunteers During Volunteer Appreciation Week

April 18 – 24, 2021



fidget cloth
Fidget cloth sewn by Lorraine McGill.

Lorraine McGill has been sewing clothing and home décor since the 1970s. But, she didn’t begin volunteering for Samaritan through art quilting until her daughter saw the organization’s Facebook post about seeking fidget mats for hospice patients with dementia. It was then Lorraine found a new stitching mission.

In the Fall of 2020, Lorraine’s husband Edward passed away after receiving hospice care for dementia for three years. For six of those months he was in long-term care. She spent a lot of time at the facility and saw a need among the residents for something to calm, occupy, and stimulate them. That’s when she came across the idea to make fidget quilts. At that time, she gathered information about how to make them and waited for the right time to get started.

A fidget cloth – or fidget quilt — replaces clothes, blankets, and hand-rubbing or pulling that a dementia patient starts to do as they feel anxious and helps restore peace and calm.

She sews them in memory of her husband and is happy to have a newfound purpose for her favorite hobby. Plus, giving to Samaritan through art quilting has helped Lorraine cope with the stresses of losing her husband and the pandemic.

Lorraine said, “I am so happy to finally be sewing and creating. It just feels right in so many ways! I am blessed to have this opportunity and a big sewing room with lots of equipment and materials. I’ve found my perfect match in Samaritan.”


Judy Taylor with Samaritan Staff
Judy Taylor surrounded by Samaritan certified home health aides at her retirement celebration in 2011.

Judy Taylor started working at Samaritan in 1986 and retired in 2011 after 25 years of service. As a beloved home health aide supervisor, she left a legacy of commitment, compassion, and understanding. In fact, each year in Judy’s honor Samaritan awards the Judy Taylor Award for Service Excellence to a deserving home health aide.

But, it wasn’t until 2019 that Judy bestowed her gift of sewing on Samaritan patients and their families. Just two short years prior, Chuck, her husband of 34 years, passed away. The lifelong lovebirds spent their retirement managing Chuck’s cancer diagnosis, enjoying family, and – most importantly – loving and laughing.  Although she may have been sewing since her 20’s, her life’s journey only recently called her home to sew for Samaritan.

In the midst of the pandemic, Judy has sewed masks, headbands for masks, and fidget cloths. She says, “Helping someone in a small way during a difficult time in their life is a gift to me.”

fidget cloth
Fidget cloth sewn by Judy Taylor.

Sally Cezo, director of volunteer services says, “Judy is Samaritan family. It’s our honor to have her as a volunteer. She, like all our volunteers, has a big heart and a generous spirit. Samaritan is so blessed to have so many people sharing their gifts of time and talent with our families. At times a simple thank you just doesn’t feel like enough.”


Peggy Heisler has been volunteering for Samaritan for six years. When she retired from working as an early intervention nurse for families of disabled infants and children, she knew she wanted to volunteer for Samaritan. Not only did she feel connected to the mission of providing comfort, support, and dignity at the end of life, but her admiration for Elizabeth Kübler-Ross, a pioneer in the hospice movement, solidified her feelings that hospice was the right choice for her volunteer time.

fidget mats
Fidget mats sewn by Peggy Heisler.

After completing 15 hours of training, she became a patient/family volunteer. This type of volunteer provides companionship to patients through conversation, reading, watching TV, and playing games.

Peggy has also helped as a greeter at The Samaritan Center at Voorhees where she welcomes guests as they visit their loved ones. In the last year when in-person visits were no longer possible, she’s quickly found ways to continue volunteering. Peggy began making check-in calls to bereaved family members and she also began sewing projects. Although she’s been sewing since she was 10 years old, it was now the right time for her to donate her gift of needlework to Samaritan. She makes masks, fidget mats, and fidget muffs.

fidget muff
Crocheted fidget muff with sewn-on embellishments by Peggy Heisler.

Peggy said, “Volunteering at Samaritan has helped me find purpose and fulfillment in my retirement. I have enjoyed meeting many wonderful people from patients and their families to the staff and volunteers.”

Volunteer Coordinator Andrea Kinsey added, “Bringing comfort to patients through these volunteer efforts is extremely rewarding. When I first started as a coordinator, our supply of handmade items was low. Recruiting these talented women has been a highlight of my career because it’s been so fruitful for Samaritan. It’s an amazing use of incredible talent that brings much comfort to those in need.”

These dedicated people are just a few examples of Samaritan’s wonderful volunteers. They weave Samaritan’s mission of service into the fabric of our lives through their generosity, dedication, and desire to provide joy, peace, and – most importantly – comfort to those in our community.

*Masks are for administrative staff (non-clinical) and visitors to The Samaritan Inpatient Hospice Centers.