Crochet needles clicked and sewing machines whirred as volunteers for blanket-making organization Project Linus gathered in Sierra Vista Mall’s community room.
It was Feb. 20, National Make a Blanket Day, and longtime “blanketeers” invited shoppers and interested newcomers to create one-of-a-kind, handcrafted blankets for children in the Central Valley facing traumatic situations.
“Our total number of blankets for the day was 64. There are 64 children who will receive a comforting blanket hug when they need it most,” said Betsy Champ, Project Linus chapter coordinator.
Blankets created by members of the local community make a difference in comparison to impersonal store-bought blankets, according to Champ, because they carry a sentimentality that resonates with each recipient.
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“Our blankets are made with love,” Champ said. “I like hearing stories of what’s happening with the kids. I was at a Project Homeless Connect in Kings County and I actually saw one of our blankets with one of the kids there. To get the thank-you calls, it’s great. It’s amazing to have this family come together and make blankets, to have somebody break down in front of you because they realize what they’re doing.”
Project Linus, named after the blanket-toting Peanuts character by Charles Schulz, is a national organization with chapters in all 50 states.
The Fresno, Kings, Madera & Tulare Counties Chapter meets in various locations across the Valley, including Fresno, Clovis, Hanford, Reedley and Sanger. Project Linus is not a club with registered members, but rather a gathering of volunteers who can choose to attend regular meetings as frequently as desired. Dropoff locations are also available throughout the Valley, so volunteers do not feel pressured to finish blankets in one session or obligated to attend a meetup out of town.
For ‘blanketeers’ like Tracy Newkirk, Project Linus is a fun project that utilizes preexisting sewing skills in ways she did not expect.
“I’ve been volunteering with Project Linus just since October. I began quilting three years ago, and I am a member of the San Joaquin Quilters’ Guild. We had a table next to Project Linus at the fair, and I was just mesmerized by kids painting fabric squares for quilts,” Newkirk said. “I’m not working, so this gets me out of the house. Everyone should come out and play. Everyone benefits from it. Nothing is more gratifying than helping children in need. I cry every time.”
Volunteers do not need experience with a sewing machine to help out — there are even opportunities to learn sewing for free.
“We have been teaching beginning sewing at the Gillis Library on Fruit and Dakota, on the second and fourth Wednesdays of the month from 6 to 8 p.m. We’re really teaching quilting. The kids learn to sew the squares of quilts, and that way they’re helping us put together quilts,” Newkirk said.
Project Linus welcomes children accompanied by adults, but small children are not recommended to take on such a big project. Kids and teens looking for service hours can come by and make fleece blankets by cutting strips into the edges of fleece, then tying knots for a fringed effect.
Project Linus runs entirely on donations; people can donate money, gift cards to craft stores, fabric, sewing supplies, sewing machines and yarn. The clever volunteers will find a way to make use of every material that is donated.
“There is no waste. We take the cut up scraps and it gets quilted together. Then whatever small pieces we have leftover, we have volunteers who use them for stuffing dog beds made from tougher [donated] materials. Then they’re donated to animal shelters,” Michele Shields, volunteer, said.
According to Shields, spending an average of 60 hours per month working with Project Linus is all worth it.
“I personally was in an emergency room waiting for services for my grandkids. Through the cubicle I could see kids with Child Protective Services and police officers. The little girl cuddled up with one of our blankets. I knew right there, I’ll never give up on this project,” Shields said.
Shields, a retired 44-year employee of AT&T, heard about Project Linus from AT&T’s Community Service Day in partnership with nonprofit organization United Way. Several of the volunteers with Project Linus’ Fresno chapter are retired AT&T employees, including Carol Shervem.
“I got involved because of my former company, AT&T. I participated in their Community Service Day and Project Linus was one of our projects. I got hooked,” Shervem said. “My own personal goal is two fleece blankets and one quilt. I also donate my time and save recyclables to pay for [materials]. Making blankets is one of the best projects you can do and it helps the local community. You know where the donations are going.”
Volunteers do not personally hand blankets to children in distress, but instead make deliveries to institutions that are trained to handle children in hospitals or police situations. Children’s Hospital, Community Regional Medical Center and the police departments of Fresno, Hanford and Kings County are just a few of the many organizations that accept Project Linus blankets.
Drop off locations in the Fresno/Clovis area are at D&J Sewing Center in Clovis, Quilter’s Paradise in Clovis, Hope Lutheran Church in Fresno and Sierra Fiber Arts in Fresno. People interested in donating materials, attending meetups or those with questions about blanket requirements can visit fresnokingsprojectlinus.org or call Betsy Champ for more details at (559) 246-7956.
The newly reformed Fresno, Kings, Madera & Tulare Counties Chapter aims to produce 150 blankets per month. The next sewing day in Clovis is March 12, at D&J Sewing on Clovis and Gettysburg from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m.
“Primarily, this is a way to give back to the smallest members of our community who are sometimes overlooked,” Shields said.