RARITAN, Ill. — The women of Raritan Baptist Church have been cutting and wrapping bandages for use in Congolese hospitals for at least the past 70 years — maybe longer.
When the Raritan Baptist Women's Missionary Society first received its mission decades ago, its members were given a quota of bandages to create. But these days, there is no upper limit. The need is that great.
"We do as many of these as we possibly can," said group member Norma Harden.
Harden and about a dozen of her compatriots, most of them older than 70, sat Wednesday in the Raritan Church Basement, their hands full of torn, white cloth. It looked like an informal assembly, with volunteers measuring the length of the bandages, and even more sewing them together and rolling them up as bandages.
Like most church volunteers, the women operate with almost no overheard, save for the shipping costs of the bandages. And they do it once a year, all day. By the time the women left the church later that evening, they produced about 250 bandages.
"We feel like the Lord is doing what He wants us to do," said volunteer Roberta Hanger.
Since the bandages are made of cloth, they have a lot of uses besides mitigating injury — such as bracing pipes and wires inside Congolese hospitals. The bandages sometimes are washed and used again, and because they don't come in store-bought packaging, are less likely to be sold than pre-made bandages.
Society president Donna Powless said the group received reports from missionaries in the Congo and learned the bandages were used to heal a turkey.
"Their turkeys, one of them had a broken wing, so they used roller bandages," Powless said. "They were doing a celebration over there, and they were using them as banners. They use them for everything."
The bandage donations are coordinated by International Ministries, and the women at Raritan Baptist do a lot more than cut and sew cloth. With an annual budget of less than $1,800, the society supports the two local nursing homes, four local food pantries and campus ministries in several Illinois college towns.
"Our membership is small, but we are empowered to serve God in our community," Harden said.
The youngest bandage roller in the society — 53-year-old Toni Hendrickson — has been a member of the church since she was a child. She has moved to various locations throughout the course of her life, but she always returns to Raritan.
"I love all these ladies. It's fun to get together with them all," Hendrickson said.
She referred to her fellow church members as family, which is common in tight-knit churches. But in a town as small as Raritan, "family" often is both metaphorical and literal.
"These are both my aunts," she said, pointing to the women across from her.