The Minneapolis Star Tribune reports that the city’s Department of Veterans Affairs announced this month that it cannot currently accept donations of homemade quilts for veterans from a group of quilting volunteers.
According to representatives of the group, Quilts of Valor, this is due to fears that bed bugs may be spread through the quilts:
Twin Cities leaders of the charitable group got the word from the Minneapolis VA earlier this month. They were told the decision was part of a nationwide directive for VA facilities because of an outbreak of bedbugs at a VA homeless shelter in another state. The restriction is expected to last at least six months, they were told.
Page Johnson, the southern Minnesota coordinator for Quilts of Valor, said Wednesday that the VA’s concerns are understandable, though she gave just a hint of offense at the suggestion that her group’s quilts could be carriers of bedbugs. The fabric is new, the process for making them is clean and there has never been a hint that any of the quilts delivered to the VA were tainted, she said.
“We’re dealing with new fabrics, people take this very seriously, everything is kept clean, there is no contact where it would get something like that,” Johnson said. “Bedbugs come from humans using the quilts and they are not used, they are new. I can assure you we are not using these things and giving away used items.”
It’s important to note that these statements reflect a misunderstanding of how easily bed bugs spread, and how long it can take to detect a problem at home.
If bed bugs were present in any of the locations where quilting was taking place, or anywhere the quilts were stored or transported, then the quilts could certainly contain bed bugs, even if the materials were new and the quilts were never “used” by humans.
While QOV procedures require quilters to wash their quilts before donating them, I suspect hand-sewn quilts cannot be dried in a hot dryer. The procedures as stated would be insufficient to ensure the items are bed bug-free.
It’s important to understand that this is not a judgment on the cleanliness of the volunteers or their homes; bed bugs spread easily and are a pest of exposure, not hygiene.
Most readers of this website who have bed bugs have clean homes and are surprised to find they have bed bugs. And it is fully possible for people to have bed bugs and be totally unaware (for a while, at least). If someone in this situation worked on or transported a quilt, then the quilt could transport bed bugs.
On the other hand, rendering quilts and other hand-sewn items bed bug free would seem to be as simple as baking them gently in a Packtite for a period of time — and this could certainly be coordinated at some point in the donation process.
Therefore, if the reason for the ban was fear of bed bugs, VA officials might want to rethink this policy.
However, the article notes that this fear of bed bugs being spread is only one of two possible explanations for the request that the Quilts of Valor volunteers stop donating quilts for a while.
According to the Star Tribune, The VA itself claims that the ban is due to the volunteers having produced so many quilts that they are overstocked and have no more need at this time.
Quilts of Valor has donated an amazing 37,000 quilts to soldiers and veterans since the group started in 2004.