After helping provide a little extra warmth for hundreds of families in need, Bonnie Engle of Hermiston got a gift in return.

Hermiston Police Capt. Travis Enyon presented Engle with a $250 gift certificate last week for her 85th birthday, recognizing the hundreds of handmade quilts she has had a hand in donating to the department’s Christmas Express program over the years.

“This is a huge part of the Christmas Express package we do, and I can’t tell you how helpful it’s been,” he said.

The Christmas Express distributes food, toys and other items to needy families during the holiday season. Engle said she started making quilts for the program about 12 years ago, and eventually got a handful of fellow residents at Desert Sage Manor to help tie the ones she made, and in some cases make their own. Together they donate between 100 and 120 handmade quilts each year.

Community members often donate fabric for the quilts, but the women generally pay for batting and other supplies out of their own pockets.

Engle said she started making quilts after she retired “just for something to do,” but now she loves being able to help out a worthy cause.

This year she said she made most of the fronts and then set them up on frames in the common area so other people could sit and help tie together the front and the back. Fellow Desert Sage Manor resident Geri Nunnenkamp said having the quilts to work on during the year had been helpful in keeping her mind off of the health issues.

“It’s fun,” she said. “When you’re in pain and you can’t sleep you can sit and think of something else.”

In addition to the quilts, the residents also help the Christmas Express program by collecting donations, crocheting items and buying toys and books to donate.

Darlene Nelson, property manager for Desert Sage Manor, pointed out that the apartments — which are available to women age 62 and older — are subsidized by the housing authority. She said many of the women there feel drawn toward doing something in recognition of the rent help they receive.

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