By Mary Kinder
FORT WAYNE — Comfort comes in a variety of forms. For students facing a tough path, it comes by having something to call their own — a simple item to put their name on and take with them as their journey continues. For a mother facing an extraordinary loss, comfort comes from giving to others, creating something beautiful to honor loved ones lost. For both, the source of their comfort is a simple, handmade quilt.
Last year, Jim and Carol Tosconi of Fort Wayne were visiting the Gibault School in Terre Haute as part of the Knights of Columbus convention. Jim Tosconi serves as the financial secretary for Council 122417, Knights of Our Lady of Good Hope. Gibault has long been a faith-based project for the Knights of Columbus.
Founded in 1921 by the Indiana Knights of Columbus, Gibault was originally a home for wayward boys. But over the years, it has evolved to meet the needs of troubled kids in a variety of ways. Today, Gibault serves boys and girls and has provided life-changing opportunities for more than 8,600 children and their families.
The Gibault School serves as refuge to students who are dealing with a variety of issues, from behavior and social troubles to substance abuse and more. Through a variety of services provided in a Christian environment, Gibault makes a real difference in the lives of young people struggling to fit in. The school’s mission is to provide life-changing opportunities for children, adults, families and communities.
While speaking to a staff member, Carol Tosconi was struck when she was told the children don’t take any of the donated items with them when they leave Gibault. Everything stays at the facility to help care for other children.
She immediately had an idea. She asked if she could make quilts for the students, and if they could keep the quilts when they left. “I thought it was important for them to have something that no one could take away,” she said.
The staff thought it was an excellent idea, but it would be a big undertaking. There are roughly 100 students at Gibault at any one time. Carol was up to the challenge and began excitedly making plans for the project.
But while returning from their trip, Jim and Carol received a phone call that would change their lives forever. Their daughter and son-in-law, Jennifer and Doug Hake, had been killed in a traffic accident in Alabama. Sadly, they left behind four children: Benjamin, 12; Sydnee, 17; Zachary, 19; and Christopher, 21.
“It’s something you never get over,” Jim Tosconi says of the loss.
After the initial shock began to subside, Carol Tosconi thought of the quilts. Rather than abandon her project, she now saw it as an opportunity to honor the lives of Jennifer and Doug. In addition, the project became part of the healing process.
Jim explains that it gave Carol an outlet for her grief, “Something to do with her hands” he says, looking at his wife with soft, caring eyes.
A quilter for more than 12 years, Carol did much of the work herself. But, as the project grew, she got help from a variety of sources, including the Knights of Columbus. As the quilts were finished, the Knights helped by tying tiny bows on them. Of course it wasn’t one of their usual duties, but they were happy to be of service. Carol also is quick to thank her Thursday night Women’s Bible Study group for their generous help.
Making 100 quilts comes with a large financial cost, as well. While local fabric stores were very helpful, selling material at sale prices to Carol, the couple estimates that they have spent more than $5,000 on fabric and materials. Initially, they were taking the costs on themselves, but eventually, the Knights of Columbus and others stepped in to help.
While speaking with Jim and Carol, who will celebrate their 45th wedding anniversary next month, it is easy to see that their faith has helped them get through this difficult time, along with support from family and friends. They are now legal guardians of their grandchildren. Benjamin attends St. Vincent dePaul School and Sydnee attends Bishop Dwenger High School. They both say having the children has been a blessing amid the tragedy.
The colorful quilts were recently displayed throughout Our Lady of Good Hope Church where they were blessed by Msgr. Bruce Piechocki before being taken to Gibault. The Tosconis were there, along with their four grandchildren, the Knights and many of their friends.
Carol says she plans to continue this mission for as long as there is a need. She will make sure each new student receives a quilt of their own soon after arriving. And while each quilt is unique, every one has an identical tag sewn into the corner which says, “Made with love for (blank space) in honor of Jennifer and Doug Hake.” In that blank space, students can write their names, and take comfort in the knowledge that someone believes they deserve something of their very own.
Those interested in helping in Carol’s ministry may contact Our Lady of Good Hope at (260) 485-9615.
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