Firefighters from 50 States Create a Special Birthday Gift

Alli Marois said she received more than 100 T-shirts. Some of the shirts can be seen here_Courtesy Alli Marois

Photo Courtesy of : Alli Marois

Alli Marois wanted to do something special for her father’s 61st birthday. Bill Collins retired in September 2021 after serving as a Des Moines firefighter for 38 years.

Collins is so passionate about fighting fires that he used to buy t-shirts from local fire departments whenever the family went on vacation. Marois decided to take that idea a step further by collecting as many shirts as possible to make her father a quilt.

“I know he hasn’t been to all 50 states,” she said, “so I figured, ‘Why not just try something?’ Let’s try to get all 50 states for him.”  Her intention was not only to get shirts from all 50 states but to also make a quilt out them for her dad.

In February, she posted her request on social media, encouraging firefighters to be part of the journey. It didn’t take long for the shirts to start arriving. [1]

Marois Posted Her Request on TikTok

Marois wanted to make sure her father’s first birthday in retirement still embraced his passion for firefighting. She posted a simple TikTok video with a caption that said, “Do your thing.”

“Firefighters of TikTok,” Marois says in the video above, “I’m asking you for your help to please send me a shirt from your state. I would love all of you to be part of this journey.” [2]

“My dad has been one of my number-one supporters,” said Marois. “He’s done [firefighting] for 38 years, so I wanted to give him something that he would treasure forever.” [3]

It didn’t take long for her video to go viral. Although her father’s birthday is in August, she’s received over 100 t-shirts from various departments. They’ve also had several patches come in the mail, along with some coffee and a thermos.

Not only has Marois met the goal of getting shirts from all 50 states, but she has also received international shipments. A few responses include fire departments in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Making Quilts Is an Iowa Tradition

Although quilting isn’t strictly a hobby, tradition, or need in only Iowa, the state is a haven for this art. Each year in June, quilters come from all over the world for Sew Iowa, which is a month-long event that includes up to 100 shops and galleries throughout the state.

Crafters in Iowa are so passionate about quilting that several barns in at least seven counties have been given upgrades with this block art.

If you go to Winterset, the Iowa Quilt Museum offers several colorful displays and four exhibits that annually showcase contemporary and historic quilts. [4]

An exhibition planned for December 2022 to March 2023 is looking for family quilts that grandmothers made through the years. They’re looking for at least 28 items to fill the gallery. [5]

Marois’ firefighter t-shirt quilt might not make the cut for that project, but it will undoubtedly be a work of art once it is completed.

The Project Got So Big That It No Longer Became a Surprise

Since Marois had her request go viral, people have been talking about the birthday quilt. What started out as a surprise gift is no longer that, but she says she’s working to maintain some of the mystery for the big unveiling.

“He hasn’t seen all the t-shirts or anything,” said Marois, “so, he won’t know what it’s going to look like until I actually give it to him.”

Alli Marois (left) with her father she's making the quilt for (center) _Courtesy of Alli Marois

Some of the most precious items that the family has received in the mail for this project are handwritten letters from some of the 9/11 firefighter widows. Marois said she told her father about them, but that he hasn’t seen them yet.

Since there has been such a significant response to her video, Marois says she plans to make the primary side of the quilt from the crests on the front of each shirt. She’ll include some of the back designs on the underside to create a striking presentation.

Bill’s wife, Deb, has been included in the project. They’re currently cutting the shirts and piecing together the blanket.

Additionally, after a recommendation from a TikTok comment, any material scraps that are left after making the present will get turned into dog toys.

“As soon as all these shirts started to come in, I got very emotional because [everyone] is helping someone they don’t even know. They’ve never met me; they’ve never even talked with me. You wouldn’t really expect random strangers to help someone they don’t know,” said Marois.

And yet, the nation and people from other countries did just that.  A true demonstration of unity, kindness, and selfless compassion.


[1] https://www.cnn.com/2022/03/19/us/iowa-tiktok-firefighter-trnd/index.html; [2] https://www.tiktok.com/@alli_marois_; [3] https://www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/iowa-woman-tiktok-fire-department-shirts-dad-50-states; [4] https://www.traveliowa.com/destination/iowa-quilt-museum/10792/iowa; [5]https://www.iowaquiltmuseum.org/future-exhibits/

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