“A quilt will warm your body and comfort your soul.”—Anonymous
By Kelley Shinn
Rebuilding after a natural disaster is akin to sewing a quilt—it isn’t a quick process. It’s one stitch at a time, and it takes a lot of stitches.
Lori Millsap of Winterville, Pitt County, knows this all too well. Having grown up in Tupelo, Mississippi, part of Tornado Alley, she knows first-hand the devastating effects of storms.
That’s why Lori and her husband Dennis will visit Ocracoke on Wednesday, May 26, and from 4 to 6 p.m. and will be at at the Community Square Docks to distribute 100 quilts made by quilters from all over the world for the Ocracoke community, first-come, first-served.
Dennis is retired from the U.S. Air Force. As military families do, they moved a lot before settling in eastern North Carolina in 2004.
In 1989, they were in South Carolina for Hurricane Hugo, with a newborn, one of two daughters. Dennis was a child in Biloxi, Mississippi, when Hurricane Camille blew through, and Dennis’ sister, in Slidell, Louisiana, lost everything in Hurricane Katrina in 2005.
“It was natural for us to spend our ‘retirement’ volunteering with organizations that help after natural disasters,” Lori says.
Dennis is now a disaster-response event leader for Eight Days of Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to disaster rebuilds.
Because of Ocracoke’s unique situation as a small island reliant upon a ferry system, the large sweeping services that Eight Days of Hope offers wasn’t possible after Hurricane Dorian devastated the island on Sept. 6, 2019, but Lori couldn’t sit by and do nothing while watching the suffering of a place that is dear to her heart.
The couple spent their 20th anniversary on the island in 2006 and were so enamored with the village that they’ve been regular visitors ever since.
Lori decided to make it a personal mission to provide a source of comfort to the island that has given her and Dennis so much comfort over the years—and soon after, Quilts for Ocracoke got its own hashtag.
Lori has been quilting for 30 years, ever since, she says, “We were a young family stationed in Alaska. I was attending graduate school studying mathematics and statistics, parenting two small children, and 5,000 miles away from my family, so I thought I needed a new hobby! Ha!” Because of the travel associated with her husband’s career, Lori has had the opportunity to learn to quilt from teachers around the country and to participate in guilds in large quilting communities in Ohio, Mississippi, Alabama and North Carolina.
In 2011, she started a professional longarm quilting business which she named Island Time Quilting.
She chose the name because she’d rather be on Ocracoke if she can’t be quilting. She says the two are pretty much tied for her affection.
After Dorian, Lori dusted off her “mostly neglected blog” and gave a shout to her “Instagram community of quiltmakers and taught them a little about Ocracoke.”
“I chose the Ocracoke Cracker Quilt Block, a pattern that originated on the island, as the block for quilters to make to support and send to island residents,” Lori says, “and I volunteered to make 200 quilts over the next 20 months (until May 2021, when my husband and I hope to celebrate our 35th anniversary on the island). Both recovery and quilting take time.”
Packages began to arrive at Island Time Quilting from all over the world, from England to Australia.
Blocks came from quilters across America, some of whom had wonderful memories of vacationing on the island and many of whom had never heard of Ocracoke before.
And North Carolina quilters really took care of their own.
The Alamance Piecemakers Guild sent two finished Cracker quilts each month in 2019 and 2020 and extra blocks for other quilts that Lori was assembling.
The Twin River Quilters in New Bern, still in recovery from Hurricane Florence in 2018, contributed over 500 blocks, and Lori’s own Greenville Quilters made blocks, finished quilts and provided support in many different ways.
Lori and Dennis first came to post-Dorian Ocracoke in February of 2020 to deliver 50 finished quilts, which she distributed door-to-door to islanders she’d heard about. They also helped a local family with a drywall project.
Once the pandemic hit, their best-laid plans of delivering more quilts fell to the side, but Lori says that now she is “delighted to deliver a little hope and joy to the island that I love so dearly.”
They have enough supplies to be able to make 75 more and hope to deliver those in time for the two-year anniversary of Dorian this September.
All are invited to come and greet Lori and Dennis, and if you haven’t received one already, get yourself a hug that lasts in the form of a quilt that will remind you on the darkest nights that you can get through hard things, one stitch at a time.
If you know of anyone who is elderly, or otherwise unable to make it to the docks that day, who could use an extra dose of joy, please email Lori at email@example.com, and special deliveries will happily be made.
To view some of the beautiful and generous donations, check out Lori’s blog at islandtimequilting.com, @islandtimequilting on Instagram, or #quiltsforocracoke on Instagram.