HOMEMADE HUGSby Daryl Brower
“They’re like warm hugs,” says Peggy Kane of the homemade blankets distributed by Project Linus, a nationwide nonprofit organization that provides hand knitted, crocheted, and quilted blankets for children in crisis. Named for the blanket-clutching character in Charles M. Schulz’s Peanuts comic strip (each blanket bears a tag with his likeness), Project Linus has distributed over 4,000,000 handmade blankets to neonatal intensive-care units (NICUs), shelters, cancer-care centers, and anywhere else kids could use a little comforting. “They’re security blankets,” Peggy shares. “They give the kids something to hold on to when they are frightened and let them know there is someone out there who cares about them.”
Peggy is the coordinator for the organization’s Chester/Delaware County, Pennsylvania, chapter. Like the hundreds of volunteers across the country, she finds her own comfort and sense of purpose in putting her creative talents to work for Project Linus. Working with yarn, fabric, and fleece, the group puts cozy, colorful security blankets into the hands of children who are in any number of stressful situations. The blankets are given to kids who are undergoing treatment for cancer or other illnesses, children in foster care, at-risk teens, and many others. Hospitals, child-welfare agencies, police stations, firehouses, and rescue squads are just a few of the agencies that keep piles of Project Linus comforters on hand to give out any time a child needs a feeling of security. And kids aren’t the only ones who get a warm fuzzy feeling from the blankets—those casting on the stitches and sewing the seams benefit too. “The Project Linus mission is twofold,” Peggy explains. “We give a little comfort and compassion to kids in need, and we provide an opportunity for people to do good in their own communities.”
The idea for Project Linus was sparked by a story that appeared in Parade magazine in December 1995. Founder Karen Louks was flipping through the magazine on Christmas Eve when she came across an article titled “Joy to the World.” Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams, the story was filled with pictures, one of which featured a little girl named Laura who was battling cancer. Laura was photographed hugging her “blankie,” a cuddly talisman that her mother said had comforted her and helped her to keep calm as she underwent often-painful chemotherapy treatments. Touched by the story, Karen started thinking about ways to offer similar solace to kids like Laura. She began stitching security blankets and bringing them to the Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children’s Cancer Center in Denver, Colorado. As word of her work spread through newspapers and TV coverage, so did the number of volunteers wanting to make blankets. “It just kept growing,” says current Project Linus executive director Carol Babbitt. What had been a local effort to make a difference became a nationwide call to wrap kids in need in a warm embrace.
Today, Project Linus boasts some 400 chapters scattered throughout all 50 states. Chapter coordinators like Peggy Kane decide where the blankets will be donated, determine exactly what is needed, and organize deliveries and drop-offs. The national office, located in Bloomington, Illinois, and helmed by Carol Babbitt and vice president Mary Balagna, takes care of public outreach, fundraising, insurance, and other administrative details. “That leaves the chapters free to concentrate on their communities,” Carol explains.
Blanketeers, as Project Linus volunteers are affectionately known, come in all ages and skill levels. “We have everyone from scouts to seniors working on blankets,” says Peggy. “Some have regular meeting days when they work on the blankets; others just slip in stitches when they can and bring the blankets to drop-off points. We even have some office groups who spend their lunch hours making blankets.” The skill levels of the blanketeers vary as widely as their ages and backgrounds—some in Peggy’s chapter are lifelong crafters; others are completely new to knitting and crocheting. One thing that is constant, however, is their reason for joining the ranks of Project Linus. “They love the idea that their creative outlet can double as a means to help someone else,” Peggy shares. “Knitters and crocheters are really generous—they like making things and giving them to people to make them happy.”
The blankets certainly do bring joy to recipients. “We get endless piles of thank-you notes from parents and kids, telling us how much the blankets mean to them,” says Peggy. “People are really touched that a stranger has invested the time and talent to make something just for them.” Any child age eighteen or under is eligible to receive a blanket. Project Linus recipients have ranged from newborns struggling in NICUs to college students traumatized by the shootings at Virginia Tech. “We work both locally and nationally,” Peggy explains. Chapters determine where the need is greatest in their areas, but when a national tragedy happens, the group, simply because of its sheer size, is able to respond quickly and efficiently. Within 45 minutes of receiving word of the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Project Linus had 700 blankets on their way to Newtown, Connecticut. The group also provided blankets for children displaced by Hurricane Sandy. “It’s a small thing, but it really makes a difference,” Peggy says. “The blankets are soft, loving things that show that someone cares, even if they don’t know you personally.”
Peggy notes that one of her favorite Project Linus moments is when she watches a child be presented with a box of blankets and told to pick their favorite. “They say ‘Really? I can pick any one I want?’ They’re just so touched. We’ve gotten letters from kids who tell us they still have their blankets from years and years ago.”
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about the size or design of a Project Linus blanket. “The one-of-a-kind aspect of each piece is what makes it special,” explains Peggy. Some chapters may place size requirements based on where the blankets are going (NICUs obviously will have different needs than teen centers, for instance), but as a general rule, the only guidelines are that the blanket be handmade and machine washable. “You can knit, you can crochet, you can quilt—whatever you like to do,” says Peggy. “As long as the piece is washable, free from pins, and from a smoke-free environment, we can find a home for it.”
Join HandsInterested in helping seniors like the ones in Highland Park? Contact your local office on aging, community center, or house of worship to see if something similar has been organized in your area. If there isn’t, founding a group can be as simple as speaking with the staff of any of the organizations previously mentioned. If you are starting a group or simply want to help an existing one, here are some tips to keep in mind:
Find a chapter. Joining the ranks of Project Linus blanketeers is as easy as visiting the organization’s website, www.projectlinus.org. “We’ve got a great interactive map that lists contact phone numbers for chapters all over the country,” says Peggy Kane. There, you’ll find lots of information about the organization and its goals, along with contact information for chapters operating in your area. If there isn’t a chapter near you, the site also provides information about starting your own.
Pick a pattern. We’ve provided a pattern that’s ideal for Project Linus on page 16, and you’ll find links to many more on the organization’s website. Some are free and some are provided at a discount to volunteers stitching for the organization.
Get involved. Many chapters host special events, like blanket-making days, volunteer drives, and other fundraisers. Use the interactive map at www.projectlinus.org/volunteer/volunteer.php? StateKey=OH#tgt to find out what’s planned for your area.
Donate to the cause. Many chapters accept donations of yarn, needles, fabric, and other blanket-making supplies. Check with coordinators before sending supplies, as needs will vary by group. Cash donations are always welcome and can be made through the website at www.projectlinus.org/donations, where you’ll also find an explanation of how donated funds are used.
Project Linus National Headquarters, PO Box 5621, Bloomington, IL 61702-5621. Phone (309) 585-0686 or see www.projectlinus.org.
Baby Blanket Free Pattern