COVID Memorial Quilt to Honor Those Who Have Died During the Pandemic: California Teen Encourages Healing Through a National Memorial Project by Donna John

Eighth grade student Madeleine Fugate has created a COVID Memorial Quilt to honor people who have passed away during the coronavirus pandemic. Her goal is to foster healing for those who have lost loved ones in the U.S. and around the world by displaying the COVID Memorial Quilt as a living online memorial and in public spaces.

“We see the number of people who have died on the news and the numbers keep going up and they become so big that it’s hard to understand,” said Madeleine Fugate. “I want to remind everyone that each number is a real person with a family and friends who loved them and they will never be forgotten.”

The Buckley School in Sherman Oaks, California, which Madeleine attends, engages students to complete a Community Action Project in the 7th grade. Having learned to sew at age 5, Madeleine began the COVID Memorial Quilt as her project last spring. The project was inspired by the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt created in 1985 to honor victims of the disease.

Madeleine's mother, writer Katherine Fugate, worked on the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt 30 years ago and shared with her daughter how healing and almost magical it was at the time to honor those who died during the height of the AIDS pandemic. With the rapid spread of another deadly virus resulting in the second pandemic in our lifetime, that work galvanized Madeleine to make the COVID Memorial Quilt to honor those who have died of COVID-19.

To research the best way to construct a quilt that would be fluid in scope, Madeleine worked closely with Wendy Wells, who teaches a textile class at the school. “Madeleine is one of the most fearlessly creative people I ever met,” said Wells.

Madeleine decided to request 8 x 8-inch fabric Memorial Squares for the quilt, since the number eight is the symbol of infinity and the flow of energy, a hopeful sign of life. “The quilt squares can be anything – a name, a photo, a poem, a hummingbird, a sports team, even a square from a favorite T-shirt – anything that makes the person real so they are not just numbers in the news,” she explained.

Once word got out, the fabric tributes began arriving from all over the country and even overseas. Many included heartfelt handwritten notes about the person being remembered. The touching tributes honor nurses, teachers, musicians and a World War II veteran, among other diverse people who have perished from the virus.

Cleve Jones, who conceived of the NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt in 1985, heard about the COVID Memorial Quilt and reached out to Madeleine directly. “I wanted to thank Madeleine personally for taking up the mantle and carrying on the tradition of remembrance,” Jones said. “I’m incredibly touched that a 13-year-old in 2020 is inspired by my work and activism in the 1980s.”

"Quilts show people care,” said Michael Bongiorni, Interim Director, Quilt Operations, National AIDS Memorial. “The tradition of a quilt is very American. It's a tradition that shows compassion and remembrance."

Once the individual Memorial Squares are received, they are assembled into panels with 25 pieces each. In the future, panels of the COVID Memorial Quilt may be displayed in city halls, museums, hospitals, churches and wherever healing needs to take place. Madeleine and her crew of students will also create the squares for people who don’t sew, but provide information about someone they want to honor. With more than 70 contributions so far, there is no limit on how the quilt will continue to expand.

“My hope is that this project keeps growing and the quilt keeps getting bigger because I want every person who dies of COVID-19 to be remembered,” said Madeleine. “As long as people are dying, we will keep sewing so that each person is remembered.”

To see the COVID Memorial Quilt Squares and learn more about the project, visit: Certain personal notes and letters will be made available online as well.

8 x 8 Memorial Squares can be mailed to:

3940 Laurel Canyon Blvd #443
Studio City, CA 91604

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I love this. We have lost 200,000 lives to the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. alone. That's not just a statistic. Those are real people whose families are grieving. Thank you for shining a light on this amazing teen who is making a difference, Donna John . <3

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