When Madeleine Fugate's 7th grade teacher asked students to complete a project that would give back to their community of Studio City, California last spring, she didn't have to look very far for inspiration.
Like many of us, the 13-year-old was having a hard time coping with the loss the coronavirus pandemic had suddenly brought on, and she wanted to create something that would honor the lives the virus had taken so far.
"My mom told me she had worked on the AIDS Memorial Quilt in the '80s and it helped her heal after her friend died of AIDS. So I said, why don't I make a COVID Memorial Quilt to help people heal?" she told TODAY.
After getting approval from her teacher, the teen got started and began working with her textiles instructor, Wendy Wells, to envision what the quilt would look like. Fugate started to spread the word and asked people to submit fabric squares that would represent a loved one they had lost to the virus.
Realizing that everyone isn't skilled at sewing, the teen also encouraged people to send along photos, poems or clothing items that would honor their loved ones.
"We chose the squares to be 8 inches by 8 inches because the number is the symbol of infinity and life continuing on. Each panel has 25 individual squares to make one big square that is 48 inches by 48 inches," she said.
The response was amazing and Fugate was thrilled to see the quilt take off so quickly.
"We have received over 70 memorial squares so far. They have come from all over the country and from so many different states. We have also received squares from New Zealand, Wales, England and Scotland," she revealed.
Most squares come with someone's name on it and an item that represents the person — a musical instrument, a car, a poem, etc.
"Someone sent us their dad's favorite T-shirt and we cut out the emblem to make a square for them. One square is a WWII veteran, but really, most people want their person to be known and remembered, so the most important thing we see is their name. Their name means they lived," she said.
This fall, Fugate began online classes as an 8th grader and she has no plans of stopping her quilt project anytime soon.
"Ms. Wells, our director of quilt operations, and I do the sewing and assembling together on weekends," she said. "When we get more squares in, we already have offers from students from my school and from two quilting clubs to help us sew. We hope we need to use them!"
Fugate began the quilt as a way to offer comfort to others during the pandemic, but working on it has also provided her a sense of purpose.
"The process has been very healing for me. I haven't lost anyone from COVID-19 but I know people close to me who have," she said. "I have been very hurt watching the news at night and hearing people say the 'numbers' are going up again. I said to my Mom, 'They aren't numbers! Why do they keep calling them numbers?' They are people who died and more people keep dying every day with no end in sight."
Katherine Fugate told TODAY she is beyond proud of her daughter for taking the initiative to start this project.
"I stand back a bit and just watch her as she works. I watch the young woman she is becoming. She is so focused. She is so dedicated and committed to doing something to help. She gives up her weekends to sew the quilt. That is the core of who she is as a person. She cares very deeply about other people," she said.
In the future, the teen hopes to display the quilts in public places like museums, hospitals and churches and her goal is to have a square that represents each person that died from coronavirus.
"To me, the quilt means people care that people died. It means I care. It means there is still good in the world," she said.