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Sewing hope / SDSU staffer turns hobby into community service work

Sue Fierstine works on a project in her Brookings sewing room. The SDSU employee uses her hobby to help the Delivering Hope cancer support group.
Sue Fierstine works on a project in her Brookings sewing room. The SDSU employee uses her hobby to help the Delivering Hope cancer support group.

Some people garden. Some people bowl. For Sue Fierstine, her hobby is sewing, and she uses the hobby to help others. The organization currently benefitting from Fierstine’s seamstress skills is Delivering Hope.

Formed in February 2014 by Rachel Schuldt of Sioux Falls, Delivering Hope delivers tangible messages of hope to cancer patients using oncology services at the Avera and Sanford hospitals in Sioux Falls and the Sioux City, Iowa, hospital.

Some of the messages of hope come from Fierstine’s sewing machine at her Brookings home. She sews port pillows, hand warmers and prayer squares, and she sews them by the hundreds. The delivery she made to Delivering Hope in early February totaled 414 prayer squares, 410 hard warmers and 445 port pillows plus some bookmarks with the extra fabric.

Those were among the items delivered in chemo comfort care bags by Schuldt, who featured the work of the organizations’ supporters in a March 15 Facebook post.

“Each time when these days (assembling and delivering) roll around, I am reminded how impactful this project is! The people that rally around me in sponsoring year after year, the notes of thanks from patients, the many hands in putting each bag together. I am forever grateful for God placing this on my heart over 10 years ago and thankful for the amazing tribe of people I have met along the way!”


Project rooted in college community service

Sue Fierstine
Sue Fierstine

Fierstine became part of that tribe through her job at South Dakota State University, where she is the budget and administrative coordinator with the College of Pharmacy and Allied Health Professions.

In August 2023, the college’s faculty and staff collected donations for Delivering Hope. Fierstine wondered what else the organization might need. She found she could put her sewing hobby to good use. She delivered 25 items in October. Schuldt “loved the products and asked, ‘Where can I get more?’” Fierstine reported.

After her large delivery in the winter, Fierstine went back to work. In mid-April, she delivered 180 port pillows, 40 hand warmers, two dozen neck warmers, a couple dozen head bands, some stuffed animals, 40 extension cord wraps and some tooth fairy packets.

The port pillows, designed to fit around a vehicle seat belt to ease discomfort for someone who has a chemotherapy port, are a popular item, Schuldt said.

She said recipients are “very appreciative that someone thought of them in this situation. When a patient is newly diagnosed, they are often overwhelmed. The bag lets them know they’re not in this alone. It brings a smile to people’s faces. There is still so much good left in this world.”


Also sewed COVID masks

Delivering Hope isn’t the first organization to benefit from Fierstine’s sewing.

During the COVID-19 crisis in 2020-21, she sewed more than 600 face masks. Some went to the Brookings hospital, some went to a nursing home in Alexandria, Minnesota, where her mother was living, and a local company contracted her to make 400 masks.

Fierstine enjoys the creative aspect of sewing and spends an hour an evening on her hobby as well as a few hours on the weekends. 

When not behind one of the two sewing machines she has set up at home or working in the Avera Health and Science Center on campus, Fierstine might be at the Brookings County Courthouse doing work on behalf of the Brookings Area Genealogical Society. She is currently copying school census records from 1888 to 1965.

Her sewing work has drawn praise in the college’s weekly news memo and from Schuldt.

Fierstine said, “Hopefully other people will recognize it is a great way to donate and serve other people.”

Schuldt agrees, “It is bringing a smile to the patient just diagnosed with a battle I can only imagine. It is giving the loved ones of that patient a reminder of the good in this world. It is delivering HOPE one bag at a time.”