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Apart from deer hunting, it’s hard to think of anything more classically Appalachian than quilting. It was an art born of necessity that produced items of beauty and warmth treasured for generations.

Both of us grew up in homes where quilting played the part. In Amy Jo’s home, the sewing started when fall began, and those winters are memories of three generations gathered around the quilting frames set up in the sunroom.

On similar evenings, Rick’s mother could be found curled up on a couch with a quilting hoop and a cat or two after a day of teaching junior high math.

In the days before textiles were mass produced in overseas sweatshops, things like clothing and blankets weren’t taken for granted. When garments became worn or threadbare, anything that could be salvaged was likely to wind up as part of a patchwork. It also was a way of preserving a bit of sentimental treasures, like baby clothes or a special dress, or of simply helping someone in need.

It wasn’t a throwaway culture.

Aside from keeping people warm, quilts and quilters played a role in the struggle for freedom. During the days of slavery, quilts hanging outside a home were even used as codes to assist escapees along the Underground Railroad by identifying safe houses or warning of dangerous conditions.

Today, the fabric of our communities is frayed. West Virginians have been hit by factory and mine closings, automation, massive outmigration, an opioid epidemic, deaths of despair, floods and other extreme weather events — not to mention decades of growing inequality and the COVID-19 pandemic.

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We need to salvage what we can and sew our state back together in the spirit of our parents and grandparents.

One way to do that is to ensure the passage of the Build Back Better agenda, now under consideration in Congress. This includes provisions that would reduce child poverty, make child care affordable for millions, provide paid family leave, help seniors with in-home care and improve health care.

We were recently part of a group that delivered a quilt to the office of Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. The squares told true stories of what the child tax credit — set to expire at the end of this year — has meant to West Virginia families. Some spoke of how the tax credit helped them buy shoes and clothing for kids, fix cars so parents could work or take part in extracurricular activities.

We’ve also heard from people about how the lack of safe and affordable child care kept them from entering the workforce. Others spoke of being torn between work and caring for family members with disabilities, illnesses or injuries. We easily could fill up more quilts with stories like those.

We hope the quilt is a reminder of what West Virginia families need and of the best in our traditions. We need to follow the examples of our parents and grandparents, and save what can be saved.

We can’t afford any more throwaway lives, families or communities.

Rick Wilson works for the American Friends Service Committee and is a Gazette-Mail contributing columnist.

Amy Jo Hutchinson is a native West Virginian and an economic justice organizer.

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