Fran Vannevel has a big heart.
And she’s been responsible for creating so many more.
The 80-year-old East Kildonan resident launched a program to create heart-shaped pillows for St. Boniface Hospital patients going in for heart surgery. Since the program’s formation in 2010, members of MTS Volunteers have created approximately 3,000 pillows.
The group, which currently has about 30 members, makes approximately 25 pillows per week when it meets at the old MTS telephone exchange at the corner of Horace Street and Traverse Avenue.
"We have it like an assembly line," said Vannevel. "Everybody has their step."
For her effort, Vannevel was awarded with the Outstanding Volunteer Award during a celebration marking 75 years of MTS Volunteers at Assiniboine Park on June 6. As well, at the event, Mayor Sam Katz presented the MTS Volunteers with a Mayor’s Community Service Award.
MTS manager of community investment Roslyn Dally explained the company is behind Vannevel and the volunteers every step of the way.
"They’ve committed to the St. Boniface Hospital Foundation that everyone that has surgery will get a pillow," said Dally. "They have to do 1,200 pillows every year."
The St. Boniface Hospital Foundation covers the costs of creating the pillows, though donations are accepted to help off-set the costs. The pillows are more than just a thoughtful gift, as they serve a practical purpose.
"They’ve always used a pillow for the patients. When they’re coughing, it holds the sternum bone tight," Dally said. "It was awkward, because they’d use a normal-sized pillow, and it’s not always easy to walk around.
"These become part of the healing process for people."
As well, Vannevel noted patients use the pillows while driving for two months after surgery to act as a buffer between the sensitive area in their chests and the seat belt.
Vannevel, who connected with the group in 1988 when her husband Bob worked for MTS, first started sewing bears for first responders to give to distressed children. Vannevel has also had a hand in creating bear ears to give out at the Teddy Bears Picnic, as well as dolls for diabetic children to help learn how to use needles.
"I really get aggravated with my friends when they say they’re bored," said Vannevel, who also volunteers annually at the Players Cup golf tournament. "It gives you so much satisfaction doing something somebody likes."
Vannevel, who grew up in St. Boniface, said sewing has been a big part of her life since she was a child.
"My mother sewed a lot, and she sewed for all us kids, and there were six of us. She made our snowsuits, our coats, everything," Vannevel said. "She taught me how to sew when I was 12 or 13. She gave me a big doll with a figure on it so I could learn.
"I made my own clothes until after I was married."
MTS Volunteers had 900 people who committed over 50,000 hours to local organizations in 2012.