Amy West of rural Vilonia has enlisted the help of her family and friends-to warm the state’s most needy and vulnerable.
West has kicked off Operation Keep Them Warm with the help of her family and friends as well as members of her church Hilltop Baptist Church located on U.S. Highway 107. The idea, she said, is to provide 2,000 or so blankets to those in need by Nov. 1. West isn’t asking anyone for money to help accomplishing the mission. Instead, she is asking for old blankets that may be "refurbished" or materials that can be sewn or yarn that can be knitted or crocheted to make blankets. Many people, she predicts, have items in their closets or attics, they are contemplating discarding, that her volunteers can recycle. "It’s hard to ask people for money — even it is to help those in need," West said. "A lot of people just don’t have it. I tell people. ‘I don’t need your money. I need you to give me your recycling,’" West said.
West began making blankets for others in 2006. She has filled the closets of her children and friends providing all they can use. She said it’s her way of "passing on blessings."
"I’ve got a lot to be thankful for," she added. "I cherish life."
She talked about her struggle to survive a brain tumor that, she said, resulted in "two years being gone from my life."
A teacher prior to health issues, West now lives with a programmable shunt in her head for drainage and doesn’t work outside her house. The sewing, she said, keeps her hands and mind occupied as well as allows her to "pay forward."
West’s mother, Virginia Falk, was among those injured in the April 2011, tornadoes that hit Vilonia and the Black Oak Addition. Falk was living in a mobile home, located in Black Oak, when it was picked up and tossed around, with the frame landing in the road, West recalls. She had "79 years of her life in the house that was destroyed," West said. The two bathtubs inside were found 40 yards away and over a hill. Her mom was sitting in the wheelchair, she had received the night before, with her cat, Sweetheart, in her lap when it struck.
"It was like the house blew up," West said. "No one knows how she survived. It tore her nightgown off her body.
West said first responders didn’t discover her mother until a second sweep of the debris. Boards and insulation were covering her mother from sight. She survived, West said, but suffered with a dislocated shoulder, broken ribs and scrapes and bruises. Another miracle occurred when her cat was also found alive four days following the tornado surviving underneath the debris near where her mother was discovered. West said her mother’s parrot was also discovered alive in his cage that had been blown over a hill and into a field.
"That tornado literally turned my family upside down," West added. "But, there were so many people that helped us. They gave us food and water and a lot of help."
West stepped up her blanket making program after the tornado as a way of "paying forward" the blessings her family received following the tornado. She is now shifting the program into a higher gear in order to provide warmth to the needy and homeless.
"People think there aren’t homeless in Conway," West said. "I know there are and I’m taking a bunch of them to tent city in Conway. I will also be giving them to homeless shelters and pantries. All of them will be going to someone that needs something warm."
Drop off boxes have been set up at the Harp’s Grocery Store and at the Senior Citizen’s Building, both in Vilonia. West may be contacted at 501-538-5190 or firstname.lastname@example.org.