The thread of humanity

Lorene Fugate uses sewing skills to help children in Mexico

  • Jerry Hopwood, president of Backcountry Mexico Missions, joins Lorene Fugate as she shows off a quilt she sewed at Commonwealth Senior Living in Oak Ridge. - Ben Pounds

  • Jerry and Faye Hopwood (standing) of Oliver Springs, with Backcountry Mexico Missions, hold some of the children’s quilts made by Lorene Fugate (seated). - Ben Pounds

  • Lorene Fugate holds a matching quilt and bag she has made. - Ben Pounds

Lorene Fugate makes her quilts in her room at Commonwealth Senior Living in Oak Ridge, but those quilts are traveling miles away to help children in Mexico.

Lorene has made 246 children’s quilts and 200 little bags for Backcountry Mexico Missions, which is based in Oliver Springs.

Newborn babies in children’s hospitals in Hermasillo and Guarijio and children who live in the town of La Mesa Colorada in the mountains have enjoyed these quilts and bags. She started making them in 2020.

“This is an amazing accomplishment for someone who will be 99 years old on July 16, and has macular degeneration in both eyes,” her daughter, Bonnie Herrell, told The Courier News. Fugate said she is legally blind. She said her vision difficulties make sewing slower and more difficult.

“I just don’t think anything about it and never dreamed I’d live this long,” she said regarding her upcoming 99th birthday. “But I’m just thankful I’m able to do something at this age.

“I’ve sewed, and I’ve sewed and I’ve sewed,” Fugate said, regarding her sewing work throughout her life, starting in seventh grade.

“Mama sewed, and I just picked it up,” she said.

Fugates’s machine is about 50 years old, but is still working well.

Other projects of hers have included dresses for children in Belize, hats for cancer patients, bibs for her fellow Commonwealth residents, and heating pads. Her bags have also gone out to charities like Isaiah House and Knoxville Area Rescue Ministries.

“I just enjoy sewing, and that’s just about all I can do when I’m in a wheelchair,” she said.

“I think of the children down there,” she said, regarding her current work for children in Mexico. “I think this is a great thing to do. It keeps me busy, and it helps the children.”

She said she felt good to see pictures of the children with her gifts. She works with donated cotton fabrics.

“Just lots of people want to give fabric because they don’t use it anymore,” said Herrell.

Fugate said others aren’t interested in taking up sewing.

“I can’t get anybody to get into it; I’ve tried to get help,” she said. “No, they’re not interested, especially the people who came up here to retire, and they’re retired.”

She also talked about making quilts for her great-grandchildren.

“I’ve got a lot of plans; I’ll never get them all done,” she said.

Jerry Hopwood, president of Backcountry Mexico Missions, said the hospital supports children whose mothers abandoned them, and described La Mesa Colorada as “a very poor community.”

The bags Fugate makes, he said, hold baby shampoo, soap, lotion, washcloths and wipes for the children. Fugate said they sometimes also contain Christmas gifts.

“I just think it’s amazing the Lord blessed her with this talent she’s got, and she’s using it for His glory,” he said.

Backcountry Mexico Missions works with seven area churches: Big Mountain Baptist Church and Beech Park Baptist Church in Oliver Springs; Jarnigan Chapel Missionary Baptist and Ridgeview Baptist in Clinton; Calvary Baptist in Heiskell; Pilot Mountain in Deer Lodge; and First Christian Church in Irvine, Ky.

If you are interested in helping Backcountry Mexico Missions, you can mail J.W. Hopwood, 263 Mahoney Road, Oliver Springs TN, 37840, call 865-435-0798 or email Make donations out to Backcountry Mexico Missions.