Linus Blankets provide comfort to those in distress

Published Aug 11, 2014 at 8:50 am (Updated Aug 11, 2014 at 8:50 am)

In the “Peanuts” comic strip, Linus Van Pelt is rarely without his blanket, finding it a source of comfort and, in some ways, providing a sense of security. For the 20 or so women in the local chapter of Project Linus Blanket, quilting, sewing, knitting or crocheting blankets is a way to use their creative talents to help others in need.

Meeting monthly the first and third Wednesday in room A105 of Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park, the women gather in a circle, each laden down with blankets of varying sizes and colors made between meetings that will eventually be distributed to the West Penn Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, West Penn Pediatric Burn Center, The Children’s Home and St. Clair Hospital.

To begin the gathering Aug. 6, an email from a thankful family of a premature baby was read aloud. A majority of the women smiled and nodded, content that one of the blankets made by the group had provided comfort to a family in crisis.

The group may meet in a Methodist church, but religion is not the theme, although compassion for others is the reason most participate. Members come from a variety of different faiths, including Jewish, Catholic and Protestant. Everyone, regardless of personal beliefs, is welcome, including men.

“We had one once,” said coordinator Jody Beckwith, “but we lost contact with him.”

The women call various locations home, including Bethel Park, Mt. Lebanon, Carnegie, Scott Township, Peters Township and as far away as Washington.

Founded in 2002, the local chapter members have crafted more than 20,000 blankets and have begun to branch out by making blankets accompanied by a gently used book usually coordinating with the washable material. The combination goes to children at The Manchester Elementary School in the North Side of Pittsburgh. Also, blankets were sent with medical teams to Guatemala and Haiti this year.

Some of the fabric and yarn is donated. Others come from the women’s private “stashes” of fabric at home. Some members knit or crochet; others quilt and sew, and some crochet edges on fleece or cotton blankets. Sizes vary, although a 42-inch blanket completely covers an isolette in the NICU.

One woman from Mt. Lebanon is a retired art teacher who likes to keep her hands busy. She told the group she has made comfort scarves for women’s shelters and hats for the homeless. Her creation for Project Linus was a knitted purple blanket.

One by one, at the first meeting of the month the women display their creations, including one who pulled out a crocheted blanket in shockingly vivid colors.

“I’m afraid this will keep the child awake,” she said to laughter.

The group applauded when the first black and gold Steeler blanket was pulled from a carry bag, and then a discussion ensued about contacting the Mario Lemieux Foundation and the Pengins, along with the Steelers, for donations of sports fabric to make more blankets.

And the women responded when a call was made for larger blankets for older boys who are patients in the West Penn Burn Unit.

“We have hugs for everyone, not just babies,” Beckwith, of Bethel Park, said.

There are very few requirements other than all of the materials must be washable. Each item has a silk tag identifying the blanket as coming from the Linus group and must be clean when placed on the tables in the room for distribution. Some other chapters use a collection point from where the blankets are distributed. The chapter that meets in Christ United Methodist Church delivers the blankets directly to the organizations.

The gathering is also a quasi-support group when the members catch up on each other’s lives from month to month. A decision was made to send a card to an absent member who is having a difficult time in her life. Another spoke of how she made a blouse from fabric left to the group by a member who passed away. And yet another made a plea for anyone needing an information technology worker to contact her as her son is looking for a job.

The general show and tell meeting is the first Wednesday, while the third Wednesday is a work session where the women cut fabric and prepare items to be made into blankets. Each gathering is extremely informal.

“We really encourage anyone to come,” Beckwith said. “Just show up.” The group meets from 9:30-11 a.m.

If someone is not comfortable participating in the group but would like to make blankets, Beckwith suggests dropping off the finished items at the church. While residents of the Masonic Village in Sewickley, and Vanadium Woods in Scott Township do not attend the meetings, Beckwith said group members gather blankets made in each location for distribution.

For more information or to donate materials, contact Jody Beckwith at 724-518-5076.

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