Rhonda Zimny of Lansford will never forget the year she began sewing pillows. It was 2013, and three of her family members were diagnosed with cancer – all within a six-month period.
“Something stirred in me,” Rhonda said. “Sewing pillows was something I could do to add a little comfort to their treatment sessions.”
Thus, began Pillows for Patients, a venture that’s become a life mission for Rhonda.
“The truth is – I really believe the Holy Spirit has had a hand in this,” she said. “I think it’s God’s will that I do this, which is why it has become such a passion.”
Pillows for Patients provides free travel-size pillows to cancer patients and others dealing with an illness. Each pillow is covered by a customized pillow case that Rhonda sews, incorporating a multitude of themes, materials, and patterns. Her aim is to tailor the pillow to the patient.
“Somebody will call me who knows I do this and say, ‘Can you make a pillow for so-and-so?’ And I’ll ask, ‘What is the person like – what are they interested in’?”
Her final step in creating the pillows is to pray over each one, which gives them an added dimension of depth and significance.
Patients at the Trinity CancerCare Center are some of her regular beneficiaries, but her pillows have found their way to Mayo Clinic and East Grand Forks. Her daughter, a pharmacist at Heart of America Medical Center in Rugby, has also commissioned pillows for patient use.
Rhonda isn’t sure how many pillows she has created in the six years she’s been sewing them. “I know it’s over a thousand; I’m still working on it,” she says.
Because the pillows are free, she supports her project with her own resources, which she doesn’t mind. She was fortunate to receive some grant money early on, for which she was grateful. But accepting a grant meant having to sew a set number of pillows, and Rhonda prefers to sew at her own pace. Now, the only support she receives is from Kmart, which still gives her a discount on pillow and cloth purchases.
Luckily, her family is supportive of her passion. “They’re funny; they encourage me. In fact, my husband asked, ‘Why don’t you let me help you sew?’ Before my father passed away, he was trying to recruit people to sew.”
While most of her satisfaction comes from imagining the pillows accompanying patients as they travel to Mayo Clinic or make life more comfortable for patients at the Trinity CancerCare Center, she occasionally receives feedback, like this text from a patient:
“I am so thankful to have received the Prayer Pillow. It has been a blessing thru radiation treatment and now with the healing afterward….I feel God was able to comfort me thru this pillow.”
Messages like that reaffirm her belief that something greater is afoot with her creations than simply pillow power.
It’s a good bet that as long as Rhonda can sew she’ll continue creating pillows. “As I said, it’s because this is what The Lord wanted me to do. I really feel blessed by it, and North Dakota has long winters,” she laughed.