By Savannah Guthrie, NBC News correspondent
For most of us, when we think of the words "airlines" and "blankets", our hearts aren't necessarily overcome with a warm, fuzzy feeling. Many envision those skimpy, plastic-wrapped blankets of whose cleanliness we might be somewhat suspicious. Tonight's "Making A Difference" report may just change some minds.
In 2000, a Salt Lake City-based Delta flight attendant manager, Cindy Atkinson, recruited flight attendants to help create quilts for a local hospital, Primary Children's Medical Center. Atkinson brought in a quilting frame that once belonged to her grandmother and set it up in the employee lounge. She was amazed at the response. Flight attendants flocked to the project, gathering on breaks or long layovers to contribute a stitch or two. That first year, Delta employees donated a few hundred quilts. This year, they produced a record 2,300 blankets.
And what started with flight attendants now has spread throughout the airline. From pilots to ground crews to ticket agents, hundreds of Delta employees are participating. "I think it helps them feel like they are part of a healing process," Atkinson explains.
Brenda Richards is one of the faithful. Richards worked as a flight attendant for Delta for 38 years. She has retired from flying, but not from quilting. Even now, she returns to the airport to lend a hand in sewing the blankets. Her reasons are very personal. "One time my granddaughter had surgery at the hospital and she came out from surgery, and she was wrapped in a Delta quilt!" Richards says. "I'm in it for the duration now."
As for the hospital, the staff there are convinced of the blankets' healing properties. "That quilt is like medicine that you cant get from a bottle," says Sharon Goodrich, director of annual and corporate giving at Primary Children's Medical Center. The hospital promises a handmade quilt for every child's bed - a promise Delta is helping them deliver.