In June of 1987, a small group of strangers gathered in a San Francisco storefront to document the lives they feared history would neglect. Their goal was to create a memorial for those who had died of AIDS, and to thereby help people understand the devastating impact of the disease. This meeting of devoted friends and lovers served as the foundation of The NAMES Project AIDS Memorial Quilt.
On Saturday, November 8, 2014, a group of 15 students and alumni volunteered at the The NAMES Project, one of many volunteer sites that make up Emory Cares International Service Day. GALA has coordinated a project at this site for at least the last 5 years. Emory Cares typically falls in early November, which is perfect timing to assist The NAMES Project in their preparations for World AIDS Day.
The NAMES Project, located on 14th Street, houses over 48,000 panels of the AIDS Memorial Quilt. These panels memorialize almost 100,000 individuals who have died from AIDS. Panels are created by loved ones of the deceased, and are taken around the world to keep their memory alive, along with educating the public about the AIDS epidemic – past and present.
Walking into the warehouse, one sees shelves from the floor to the ceiling in one room and bins from floor to ceiling in another room – all filled with precious quilts. Each quilt panel is 3×6 (intentionally symbolic of the size of coffin), can be made out of any fabric, and may contain any memories the quilt maker(s) want to share. Depending on the material and items attached, the panels may be light or heavy, flat or bulky. All are lovingly tended to by Gert, the seamstress who has been with The NAMES Project since the beginning. She sews panels together to make large 12×12 blocks, which are then assigned a number. This reference number is used to locate the panel on request. A quilt maker, a family member, friends, or a community may request certain blocks to be displayed at local displays. This number identifies where the quilt is located in the warehouse and/or if it is out travelling. The warehouse also contains many file cabinets – the files are also by the block reference number, and contain any history/stories/ memorabilia that is sent with the quilt.
To prepare for a display, quilts must be pulled, boxed, and shipped. Some displays are small – only requesting one block – others request hundreds of blocks. In preparation for World AIDS Day, over 400-500 boxes are packed and shipped for the 200-400 displays happening concurrently around the world. This is where Emory Cares volunteers provide a great service to the organization. They have an extremely meager staff of 2 full time and 3 part time staff members, and are otherwise dependent on volunteers.
When quilts are returned, they must be unboxed, gently cleaned by hand, and examined for any damage. Any damage is tended to by Gert. Once cleaned and re-folded, all the quilts must be re-shelved in the proper place so they can be located in the future.
If anyone is interested in volunteering –anytime, but especially around the first of the year when the World AIDS Day boxes are coming back – you can contact:
Director of Operations
The NAMES Project / AIDS Memorial Quilt
204 14th St Atlanta, GA 30318
404-688-5500 x224 (office)