FOR some people, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis might have spelt the end of active engagement with the community.
The often-painful and debilitating disease can make it very difficult to go about one's normal day, let alone partake in outside activities. But for Blankets for the Homeless co-ordinator, Susan Berghofer, MS was just another challenge to overcome.
Originally from Brisbane, Susan settled in Toowoomba twenty years ago and spent eighteen years working in corporate information management at the then Toowoomba City Council.
Although Toowoomba's climate was much kinder to her medical condition, Susan was still impacted by the effects of MS and eventually had to leave her job. However, as the old adage goes, when one door closes, another opens.
"Retirement came sooner than planned because of a relapse of MS. Following a period of personal readjustment and taking advantage of a regime of medical interventions, I looked around for an activity to fulfil my need to think, plan or do something."
It was a chance reading of a newspaper article in August 2013 that led Susan to the new "something" she was seeking.
The article related to a project being undertaken by the East Creek Community Centre in Toowoomba to supply blankets to the homeless through the recycling of existing materials.
Constructed from pre-loved fabrics - old jeans, fleeces and off-cuts - the patchwork creations provided comfort and relief from Toowoomba's sometimes harsh winter climate.
Although her manual dexterity was not what it used to be, Susan, who had previously sewn her own children's clothing, thought: "I can do that" and went off and purchased a new lightweight sewing machine.
Fast forward to 2015 and Susan is now co-ordinating a dedicated group of volunteers who pump out a regular supply of blankets for the needy, thanks to a regular supply of good, clean fabrics and a council grant that has funded the purchase of additional sewing machines.
To date, four hundred blankets have been created, helping both local charities and international causes such as the cyclone-hit population of Vanuatu.
Indeed, on the day I visited the group, the back room of the East Creek Community Centre was a hive of activity with vibrant fabrics squares being carefully measured and cut and colour combinations and designs being discussed and decided upon.
The busy hum of sewing machines provided the perfect acoustic accompaniment and the fellowship and sense of purpose among the assembled group was palpable.
For Susan, the group has truly been a blessing on many levels.
"My wish to be involved with doing something useful has been fulfilled together with having the pleasure of working with a lovely group of like-minded ladies.
"My enjoyment is not just the sewing, but being creative with colour and texture and then just giving it (the finished product) away. Volunteering is very worthwhile, benefiting others by using skills which you already have either from employment or hobbies."
The group always welcomes new volunteers. Those with sewing skills are naturally appreciated, but fabric cutters are also welcome. The group meets on Monday afternoons at the East Creek Community Centre in Kitchener St, Toowoomba.
Phone 4639 2755.