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Sewing comfort
(Times photos: Marissa Weiher)
NEW GLARUS - Marilyn Mellenberger has spent over a decade dedicated to bringing comfort to sick children through the use of her sewing machine.

Since 2003, Mellenberger has been quilting for Project Linus, a charitable organization which references the popular "Peanuts" character. She has put together just more than 3,000 quilts since she began donating the pieces. Each quilt has a unique touch created by Mellenberger in her room at the New Glarus Home. Some have vibrant zebra appliques or flowers while others feature horses sewn into every square.

"I was retired," Mellenberger said. "I saw an ad and thought maybe that was something I could do."

The ad in question was posted at Patches and Petals, a quilting store in Belleville, and asked for volunteers in the area to help make quilt tops for Project Linus. Mellenberger set out to do that and even more in the 13 years since she began sending quilts to be given to children at University of Wisconsin Health American Family Children's Hospital. The Linus Project Madison Chapter was created in 1998 and has so far given out 5.9 million quilts. The organization also donates quilts St. Mary's and Meriter Hospital in Madison; Stoughton Hospital; Ronald McDonald House; Middleton Outreach Ministry; Dane County Human Services; and ANU Family Services.

"They just keep piling up and you can only have a few in your own house," Mellenberger said with a laugh.

In 2015, Mellenberger sent 260 quilts to be distributed to ailing and healing kids at the hospital. In 2014, she made and donated 350, which she said is usually her goal.

Raised in Dayton, Mellenberger learned to sew in high school, but never developed the habit until later in life. She graduated from Belleville High School in 1958 and went on to spend her working years as the office manager of the Green County Highway Department. However, Mellenberger said she has always been into creating crafts, just not at such a high amount.

Since moving to the New Glarus Home in 2014, Mellenberger has a steady routine. The gentle hum of a sewing machine can be heard daily from a corner room on the 300 wing of the nursing home. She likes to be awake by 6 a.m., and sew for about 90 minutes before going to breakfast. After her meal, she sets to work again on one of the two machines she keeps in her room, sewing until about 11 a.m. Mellenberger then takes the rest of the day to become involved with activities with other residents. She also likes to spend some of the afternoon catching up on her reading.

"I'm lucky enough to bring my machine with me in here," she said. "I don't know what I would do otherwise."

In the past, Mellenberger has had help with her craft. Women from ages 82 to 101 spent time helping her by either coloring in designs she traced on fabric or organizing materials. To give other who are looking to pass the time something to do has been almost as much of a gift as providing warmth to a sick child has brought her.

"Doing something for somebody else," Mellenberger said. "You get so much more out of it. I'm doing what I like to do and it has a purpose."