Before coming to work at MSU-CVM, Cunningham was a nanny to twin girls, one of whom had cerebral palsy. She noted that because of this, their bond was strong and she stayed with them much of the time. Ultimately, her sewing background made it possible to give something back to the girls.
“I have sewed my entire life, so I constantly wanted to make things for the girls,” Cunningham said.
One day, they were in a fabric store getting materials to make some outfits and the girls found a piece of fleece that they liked. They loved it, hung on to it and talked about that the whole time that they were in the store. Cunningham agreed to buy them each a piece and make them both a quilt. It became their car blanket and they used the blankets for a long time. Cunningham said seeing them cherish these blankets for so long is what got her started on this journey.
“I started this to give children something for the car, for safety and for just feeling comfortable about themselves and having something they really own.”
Even after the girls grew up, Cunningham still loved making these things. She tried selling them, but didn’t find much of a market for it. Finding that out though is exactly what led her to start donating them. Cunningham started by taking some to the hospital in Tupelo and then donating them locally to Oktibbeha County Hospital.
“I just wanted an outlet where I could keep making them and giving them away,” Cunningham said. “That’s when I learned of the Safe Haven for Pets program here at the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine, and so I’ve been collecting things for them ever since.”
Safe Haven for Pets is an organization through the MSU College of Veterinary Medicine that provides temporary care to the animals of domestic violence victims. Safe Haven partners with Care Lodge Domestic Violence Shelter in Meridian, Miss. to provide temporary shelter and medical care to the pets of individuals fleeing domestic violence situations. The program also does fundraisers throughout the year to provide much-needed supplies for the individuals served by Care Lodge.
“I’ve been making quilts and giving them away for about four or five years now and I just feel honored that I can do something to help someone else,” Cunningham said. “Children are our most vulnerable and it breaks my heart to know that they are in trouble or that they are sad.”
So Cunningham started making the quilts to donate to Care Lodge via the Safe Haven for Pets program a few Christmases ago. She received such good feedback from them and was told that the kids loved them. She said that’s all the confirmation she needed to hear, and so she kept making them.
“You know it is fun for me and gives me a creative outlet for myself,” Cunningham said. “I wanted the kids to keep them, something they didn’t have to borrow while they were there at the shelter.”
Cunningham said each quilt she makes is unique. It all depends on what fabric she has available and what she feels like making at the time. Some will have patches or lace on them, while others will have embroidery. She feels that making these quilts provides the children with something that they can have that will be their own. She wants each child that receives a quilt to feel that someone cared enough for them to give them something new that they can keep as their very own.
“Making a quilt and knowing that it’s going to a kid that can snuggle up in it and feel protected or feel like they are going to be okay makes me feel good and proud that I can do something small to help them,” Cunningham said.
More information about MSU’s Safe Haven for Pets program can be found on their Facebook page here: https://www.facebook.com/safehavenforpetscarelodge2015/.