The Thanksgiving weekend quilt auction has been part of Amber Jones’s life since long before she could remember. Now she lives in Boise, Idaho, but she will fly back to Anchorage to be at the University Center when bidding begins Saturday, Nov. 24, at 11 a.m.
Quilts will come from Colorado and Montana, too, from quilters who moved away but couldn’t stop giving. There will be 30 volunteers and an ROTC corps to set up 200 hand-made quilts. Buyers who have come for years will bid again. Some will donate their purchases right back to the auction.
Then, in just a few hours, a year of work will be done.
“We’re going to be ready for a margarita and Mexican food by 4:30,” said Debby Hudson, who runs the whole huge undertaking.
She started the auction to help an organization for foster kids where she was volunteering in the 1990s. She estimates it takes her up to 600 hours to organize the event, plus her quilting. One year she made 20 quilts for the auction.
She swore she would do it until her body wore out. But then it did. She got a hip replacement.
“Now I say I’ll do it till I die,” she joked.
Debby’s laughter keeps the ship afloat. She’s the kind of woman who feels like an old friend the first time you meet her. (That’s why I decided to use first names in this column.)
It’s hard to imagine not wanting to help when Debby asks.
Debby met Amber when she became her legal guardian angel, a volunteer Court-Appointed Special Advocate.
CASA volunteers look after kids going through the foster care system. Social workers are responsible for deciding where abused or neglected children are placed. Paid advocates called Guardians ad Litem, or GALs, appear in court on children’s behalf.
But each GAL looks after 90 to more than 100 cases at a times, said Joy Petrie, director of the CASA program for the state’s Office of Public Advocacy. State guidelines call for GAL caseloads of no more than 80, she said.
Even 80 seems like a lot to me. CASA volunteers work with only one child at a time. Alaska has about 135 CASA volunteers and needs more.
Debby did it for 10 years and had eight clients.
Amber was a baby when Debby took her on as a volunteer advocate. She fell for her. She spent many hours on the phone looking for relatives who could care for her. When Amber showed symptoms of fetal alcohol syndrome at 2, she took her to weekly therapy sessions.
Debby was not Amber’s foster mother. Foster homes can change. CASA volunteers give stability as adults who try to stay in a child’s life as long as they are needed, one visit at a time.
Foster kids usually have good reason to fear adults. Debby said it could take many visits for a child to trust her and let her read aloud a story.
Meanwhile, she would be checking out the home.
“The judges were so grateful, because we’re the ones who had all the information about the child. The judge would ask, ‘What does so-and-so like to eat?’ And I would know,” Debby said.
But it costs money to do this work. Friends of Alaska CASA formed to provide support—for field trips, music lessons, volunteers’ fuel, Subway sandwiches and Value Village prom dresses. Debby said some kids escape abusive homes without their clothes and the group buys them what they need.
At first, money came from large donors. When that dwindled, Debby suggested the quilt auction. She presented the idea to her club, the Valley Quilters Guild, and 50 volunteers signed up. She sent each a handwritten thank-you note to seal the deal.
That first auction, 22 years ago, raised $3,000 with 65 quilts. Over the last five years, the auction has raised from $25,000 to $35,000 with about 200 items, ranging from full-sized-quilts to table runners, Debby said.
I did some mental math and realized that’s not so much money for all the work and money the quilters and volunteers put into this. Fabric and machine finishing of a quilt can cost $300. The value of the volunteers’ time is far greater.
Debby admitted bidders sometimes get ridiculous bargains, paying less for a quilt than the cost of material. But she still starts the bidding at same price for every item, just $35, so no quilter gets hurt feelings.
Besides, the amount of money is only one measure of success. Many groups’ fundraisers die out over years. This one gets stronger.
“Quilts represent love and worth, and that’s what these kids need,” Debby said.
Amber got adopted — Debby said that was one of the happiest days of her life — and she grew up in a loving family. She earned a college degree, has work skills, a good job and a bright future.
And this week, she will be on a plane back to Anchorage.
Amber said she was a regular kid. But she was special to Debby. Every year since around age 7, Amber has posed for a picture in front of her favorite quilt at the auction. On Saturday she will draw the winning ticket for the quilt drawing, as she has for many years, and pose again.
“I haven’t missed a year. I just think it’s really important that I go,” Amber said. “I kind of wish more people knew all the hard work that goes into these quilts for this quilt auction, and the amount of effort Debby puts into it.
“She’s just a very caring person,” she said.
Debby isn’t focused on getting credit. She just wants another picture.
“Whenever I think, do I have enough energy to do another quilt auction, and I feel like I’m going to give up, I just look at a picture of Amber,” she said.
There’s already one in every room of her house.
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