Hurricanes aren’t normally on our radar in this area. We don’t see the effects first hand but their impact travels far and wide.
Buck Lake resident Joni Pitzel got wind of 2008’s Hurricane Ike victims through the Internet. Pitzel is a huge Neil Diamond fan. Through a message board frequented by Diamond fans, Pitzel heard the renowned singer was raising funds for Oak Island, Texas. The former fishing village had suffered extreme devastation at the hands of the hurricane.
Diamond had been on tour and Houston, Texas was on his schedule just after Hurricane Ike had been through. He was taken on a tour to Oak Island and happened upon a church meeting that was taking place on a basketball court since the church had been destroyed. Diamond didn’t speak nor was he recognized immediately, but he listened to the people present and plans to rebuild their community.
The singer took action and pledged profits from his next 20 concert merchandise sales to build homes in Oak Island. With $1.7 million raised, Diamond was able to fund the construction of 12 homes. His fans were thrilled, some even travelling to Oak Island to help with the building.
The fans and the singer’s actions impressed Pitzel.
“It’s wonderful when a favourite entertainer does something good,” she says.
The local woman wanted to help as well but in Nov. 2009 she was finishing another project.
“I was in the midst of ‘Quilts of Valour,” explains Pitzel. “Making quilts for wounded military personnel.” She kept an eye on the Oak Island situation.
Pitzel stayed in touch with her online message board friend, Sue Hawthorne. Hawthorne was the woman who recognized Diamond at the church meeting he attended. The two women discussed the needs of Hurricane Ike’s victims who were moving into the 12 homes. Pitzel, who started quilting in 1993, wanted to use her talents to help those in need.
“Initially we thought 12 homes, 12 quilts,” says Pitzel. When she found out that multiple families / relatives would be living together the initial 12 quilts turned into 25.
The Buck Lake woman couldn’t believe the conditions victims in Oak Island were living in after Hurricane Ike.
“One family, parents and children had to live on a small shrimp boat because they had nowhere else to go,” says Pitzel.
“You know, we don’t have those storms and don’t understand how much damage is done,” says Pitzel. “Water is such a powerful force, when it does damage things really are damaged beyond repair.”
Pitzel didn’t start on her new project as soon as she’d planned.
“I didn’t get to start until Jan. of 2010,” she explains. “Life happened,” she laughs.
Life included returning from a trip to see one daughter in Ontario, before she had a chance to unpack Pitzel got the call that another daughter had been hit by a vehicle while using a pedestrian crosswalk in Calgary.
Once her daughter Sara was back on her feet, Pitzel helped her pack for a move to Winnipeg where she would be joining her fiancé on his return from deployment in Afghanistan.
From packing up one daughter, Pitzel then went to be with a third daughter who was expecting baby number two and moving during the same week.
Pitzel wrapped up the first six months of a very busy 2010 with daughter Sara’s wedding at the end of July.
“Work was slow to start,” says Pitzel. “I was hoping to have the quilts done for Thanksgiving in the U.S. but life was getting in the way so we moved the date to Feb. 14, Valentine’s Day.”
She appreciates all the help she’s received while making the 12 twin and 13 queen size quilts. Thea Smith, Jolene Seely and Pam Parsons pitched in on the 1,281 hour project.
“I’m really touched by the people who have helped me with my little project,” she says. ‘It’s been fun.”
The women didn’t want the project to cost a fortune so they pooled their resources.
“We raided our fabric stashes and came up with what we needed,” says Pitzel.
The quilting project has been named ‘From the pieces . . . our mission of love’ Photographs of the project, including Oak Island recipients will be compiled into a scrapbook for Diamond. Pitzel says the singer and his band are anxious to see the end result.
The quilts headed out Feb. 10 and are scheduled for arrival in Oak Island on Valentine’s Day. They’ll be met by Hawthorne and another message board friend, Vicki Dearman. The women will distribute the quilts to their new owners, one being Dearman’s wheelchair bound father.
Pitzel credits Diamond’s fan site for getting this project off the ground.
“I learned about these people from frequenting the Neil Diamond fan message board,” explains Pitzel. She’s been using the board since it began in 1998.
For more information on the rebuilding of Oak Island, Pitzel encourages people to visit Diamond’s website at neildiamond.com.