AVON PARK -For more than 28 years, a group of up to 16 women known as Busy Bodies meet every Monday morning in Burke Hall at Resurrection Lutheran Church in Avon Park to quilt, crochet and sew blankets, lap throws, booties, hats, Afghans and teddy bears to donate to hospitals and area veterans groups.
"We have made at least 30,000 teddy bears over the years, probably more," said Sharon Schweinhagen, holding up one of the simple stuffed animals being created for pediatric and Alzheimer's patients at Florida Hospital Heartland. "Everything we do is just a labor of love."
A retired insurance executive administrative assistant who moved to Avon Park in 2000, Schweinhagen has been hand sewing quilts since the age of 5 when she was taught by her grandmother. "That's about all I do anymore, and I give them all away," she smiled.
Schweinhagen is co-leader of the women, mostly church members, who meet from 9 -11:30 a.m. to craft any donated material, tablecloths, draperies and sheets into the items that will be gifted.
"Sharon and I took over after Dot passed away," said co-leader Lucille "Lue" Newman, of Dorothy Dyal, one of the founding members of Busy Bodies, who passed away March 18. "This was her baby."
A former Walmart cashier and resident of Sun 'n Lake since 2002, Newman is active with Resurrection's JOY Bible study and has assumed some of Dyal's former duties for the approximately 100-member congregation.
Newman explained that Dyal had not only headed up the community outreach work done by Busy Bodies, she organized church fundraisers, memorials and planned spaghetti suppers, picnics, funeral meals and weddings.
"She lived for this," Schweinhagen recalled. "That lady had a big heart."
"Dot had health problems for the past few years, but she was really dedicated to the group," said 98-year-old Kathryn Kuhlmeier, the oldest member of Busy Bodies.
"I joined the group in 1985, and Dot took over right after that," said Kuhlmeier, a winter resident of Avon Park since 1983.
Though the past few years she has only able to make the trip to Highlands County when her family can bring her, Kuhlmeier still sews about 46 baby blankets a year for the club from her home in Dakota, Ill.
"It's a good hobby. It keeps your hands going," remarked Kuhlmeier.
Donations go to a variety of charities; teddy bears and blankets are made for the fire departments the Highlands County Sheriff's Office in Avon Park and the Samaritan's Touch Care Center in Sebring. Baby blankets are also delivered to the Arnold Palmer Children's Hospital in Orlando.
Lap robes are donated to veterans at Fairway Pines, and baby items go to Florida Hospital. Stuffed bears and baby blankets are also taken yearly to the Avon Park Child Community Development Center, where kids' names are added to personalize each item.
This year, 50 quilts are being made for Lutheran World Relief, whose "Mission Quilts" goal is to send 500,000 quilts worldwide.
Busy Bodies is also a social club, and their members go out to local restaurants after every Monday meeting and hold monthly birthday celebrations.
All of the group's members also belong to the Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) sponsored by South Florida State College and Florida Hospital Heartland's The Caring Crafters.
"They are awesome," said Florida Hospital Director of Marketing and Community Relations Cathy Albritton of the volunteers that meets the third Wednesday of each month in conference room three. "They bring joy to our patients. Their soft bunnies and bears give a child comfort; the prayer shawls with a poem (attached) give hope; and their handmade caps, gloves and blankets wrap our newborns with love."
Though the women of Busy Bodies don't show any of their creations at fairs, they do display the items they are working on during a Sunday blessing service once a year at Resurrection Lutheran, 324 E. Main St. in Avon Park, so the congregation and community can "see what we are doing," Schweinhagen said.
Looking through the stacks of material in the church closet set aside for the group, Schweinhagen said with a smile that with the four donated sewing machines they received, Busy Bodies will be able to keep up Dyal's "mission of giving" as long as people keep bringing in material.
"We feel very fortunate that we can do this. There are very many generous people in this city," Schweinhagen said of the donations they receive.