A nondescript bungalow in Prince Albert’s east end may be home to one of the city’s most concerted efforts to help the homeless, cold and hungry since the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
Inside, a hive of activity sees dozens of quilts produced every year as fabric, filling, tools and supplies stretch from floor to ceiling.
Everything made here will go to those in the city who need it the most, and it won’t cost them a cent.
Since 2012, the makeshift quilting factory has produced hundreds of quilts, donated to homeless shelters, emergency shelters and even care homes.
It’s not just quilts. This home has produced masks, mittens, soup, treats and even jam, all donated to the Prince Albert organizations that work directly with those in need.
Overseeing it all is a retiree and one-time shop owner who believes in helping those who need it the most.
It’s those efforts that make Margaret Ferguson Prince Albert’s 2020 Citizen of the Year.
Wednesday evening, Ferguson was pulled away from her dinner table. She thought she was just out to take a peek at a project one of her quilting friends was working on. A few people she knew happened along and gathered around the perimeter of her front lawn.
That’s when representatives of the Daily Herald and Prince Albert Kinsmen Club arrived, wearing masks and holding flowers for what might have been the first pandemic-friendly Citizen of the Year ambush in the award’s 63-year lifetime.
Each year the newspaper and the Kinsmen meet to review nominations and choose one citizen worthy of the honour. Past recipients include Janet Carrier, Derek Smith and Felix Casavant, Ron and Shelley Horn and Sheryl Kimbley.
“(Margaret) is a woman of many talents and she won’t quit,” said Beryl Eros, a member of Ferguson’s quilting group.
Eros was one of the 14 quilters who signed their names to the nomination.
“Margaret Ferguson has made exceptional efforts this year to provide care and comfort for homeless men, women and children in our community,” wrote Ruth Griffiths, another nominator, in her letter recommending Ferguson for the award.
“This year, the pandemic has dramatically increased the homelessness crisis in our community. Marg has stepped up by sewing masks, making soup, baking treats and sewing mittens … all to give away.”
Surprised with the news on her front lawn, Ferguson stood, the surprise visible behind her mask.
She said she felt “shocked, amazed,” and “speechless.”
Ferguson has been sewing her whole life and quilting for at least 50 years.
“I can remember sitting at my grandmother’s knees embroidering and chocking and doing a bit of hand sewing,” she said.
“I love sewing. That’s one of my passions.”
She’s known Eros for decades, when they both operated shops in Prince Albert. Ferguson had her own store, and Eros had Fabricland. To this day, they still sew together.
All of the material Ferguson uses for her quilts, her soups and her other projects has been donated. And while she works with her sewing group to put the quilts together, she’s the one who organizes the effort.
Ferguson said — multiple times — that everything she does takes a group effort. That includes her quilting friends, her church community, girl guides, friends of friends, families and their families too.
“Endless donations of old jeans, comforters and sheets have come from as far away as Regina, Weyakwin, Christopher Lake, Yorkton, Saskatoon, Nipawin,” she wrote in a Facebook post from October 2020 quoted in her nomination letter.
“It is clear that there are good people in the world who want to make a difference. I am so proud to have them for my friends.
“It’s more than just me,” Ferguson said Wednesday.
“It’s all these other people that help. I put out on Facebook that I need ice cream pails for soup, or I need jeans. It’s amazing the number of people that drop stuff off. I have people donating meats and vegetables for soups. It’s not just me.”
It’s not just through quilting, soup making and baking that Ferguson gives back. She’s involved with local girl guide groups and stuffs socks with personal care items each Christmas with her church, Community of Christ.
She’s also sewn quilts to be used for raffles and auctions.
But it’s her quilts that Ferguson is most known for. She estimates that she’s helped sew as many as 800 since 2012.
She creates quilts made of denim for use in the long, cold winter. Denim, she says, folds around you when you’re outside and doesn’t stand out stiff. It also sheds the snow.
“Denim really works well for those outdoor quilts.”
Ferguson constructs the quilts at all hours of the day, staying up until 10 p.m. some days and using commercial breaks while watching TV to cut fabric squares on others. Her quilts have been donated to the homeless shelter, the women’s shelter and even the Herb Basset Home. Her soups and treats have gone to the Community Cares Kitchen.
Right now, she said, she’s making women’s underwear for the homeless program.
“I’m super proud of my mom,” said Corrine Ferguson, Margaret’s daughter.
“It’s well-deserved. I’m 55. All of these years have been spent observing both my parents. My mom wants to see things happen.”
Corrine helps her mother by picking berries for homemade jams or helping make gallons of hearty soup. She knows homemade jams and handmade quilts are special, which is what makes her mother’s work that much more special.
“That’s priceless. You don’t get that stuff every day,” Eros said.
“I love the idea that the folks that have the least get some of the best,” Corrine added.
But her mother’s work, she said, is about more than that.
“It’s about bringing people in,” she said.
“People want to do something and they don’t know what to do. When they get that opportunity to bring in the jeans, to bring in veggies for the soup or to make the quilts, even if they do a little bit, they get to contribute. That may be the one thing they get to do.”
None of it would have happened, Corrine said, if not for her mom.
As for Margaret, the why of what she does is very simple.
“It takes a village to care for people,” she said.
“Nobody ever said I’m going to grow up and be homeless,” Margaret said.
“Nobody ever said I’m going to grow up and e an addict. Nobody ever said I’m going to grow up and have addictions.
“Life happens. Nobody deserves to be left in the cold.”
Editor’s note: Normally the citizen of the year would be celebrated with a large banquet. Due to COVID-19, that can’t happen this year. We still intend to celebrate Margaret just like we’ve celebrated the dozens of upstanding citizens we’ve honoured over the last 63 years. Watch this space for more about Margaret Ferguson, our 2020 Citizen of the Year