Over the past nine years, Justine Naphols has rallied a group of friends to jointly sew more than 1,300 pillowcases, many of which have gone to patients at Boston Children’s Hospital Pediatric Transplant Center. The fact that her 100th birthday is this month hasn’t stopped her from promising 17 more by Christmas.
“It keeps me out of trouble,” the New Jersey native says of her sewing habit, her tone slyly playful. “This gives me pleasure. It keeps me up, keeps me going.”
Justine is naturally gregarious, and as she spread the word about her sewing project, she received an outpouring of support. The board of directors at her group home fundraises for supplies, and monetary donations allow Justine to choose her own patterns and colors at the local Jo-Ann Fabrics. The home’s resident quilting group also took up the cause. They meet every Tuesday to churn out more pillowcases. Justine can complete one an hour and has the exact specifications memorized.
“Three quarters of a yard, and ten inches for the band,” she explains. “And you’ve got to use 100% cotton. It’s the softest thing for the children.”
When she was 21 years old, Justine enrolled in a one-year training program to care for infants and newborns at Newark Hospital. She lived on-site and was on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week (well, not quite—she did have one half day off). For three years after that Justine worked in various cities around New Jersey as an infant caregiver, until she herself got married and started a family.
Years later, Justine saw an ad in a magazine asking for donated pillowcases for patients at Boston Children’s Hospital. Her past experiences in hospitals shone vivid from the back of her mind. “I think I still felt that connection,” she said, “Even after all that time.”
Soon she was distributing pillowcases to numerous hospitals near and far. Her friend Laura O’Melia, the Nursing Director at Boston Children’s Pediatric Transplant Center, arranges to pick up the pillowcases from Justine’s home in Connecticut and bring them to a new home in Boston, where they will brighten the day of a child waiting for an organ transplant. Liver transplant patient Lucas was the lucky recipient of a Winnie-the-Pooh pillowcase and now “he won’t sleep without it,” says his mom. “He fell in love with Pooh on our trip to Disney last year, and he was so excited to see that this pillowcase was for him.”
Looking out her fourth floor window at bright New England foliage, Justine, now a great- grandmother, thinks about those children confined to hospital rooms. “What a great feeling,” she says, “to know that you are making a difference.”