Project Linus blankets comfort children facing medical treatment
March 20, 2014 12:00 AM
Women volunteering for Project Linus at the center in Whitehall.
Ruby Dunlap and Pat Grasky are among a host of volunteers who create homemade quilts and blankets for children who have experience trauma at the Project Linus site in Whitehall.
By Jane Miller
Last month’s National Make A Blanket Day is keeping local Project Linus volunteers busy delivering handmade blankets to places that help children through trauma.
If you haven’t heard about Project Linus, consider your family blessed. Last year, the local chapter distributed 10,617 blankets to individuals ranging in age from premature infants to teenagers at 45 facilities such as hospitals, shelters and ambulance services.
“We have learned about the power of the blanket. It takes the focus off the bad things that are happening,” said Lois Misko, of Whitehall, the local coordinator of the project named for the "Peanuts" cartoon character who clings to his security blanket. "It is almost a little bit of magic."
She said children and their families are touched that a stranger would take the time to make something for them.
"Purchased blankets are nice, but handmade blankets are from the heart,” Mrs. Misko said. “The nurses say, ‘We love your blankets. We hand children a blanket and we get a big smile from them. Sometimes it’s the only time we get a smile from them.’”
The project began when Karen Loucks, of Denver, Colo., read an article in 1995 about a girl going through cancer treatments accompanied by her blanket. Mrs. Loucks made a blanket and dropped it off at a local cancer center.
“She thought, ‘Every child should have a blanket. I’m going to just start making them,’” said Mrs. Misko. The project emblem features the cartoon's Linus with his blanket. There are Project Linus chapters in every state and more than five million blankets have been made.
Barbara Sappie, who received the Jefferson Award for Most Outstanding Volunteer of the Year for Public Service in 2010, brought the project to Pittsburgh in 1997. Locally, more than 800 blanketeers make, collect, clean and distribute blankets for Allegheny, Butler, Washington and Westmoreland counties. Mrs. Misko became the coordinator in 2012.
Hospitals and agencies have embraced it. “Project Linus is the Gold Standard. We pay attention to details,” says Mrs. Misko. All blankets are checked for pins, a label is attached to the back and each is laundered with a fragrance-free detergent.
All efforts are donated, even the gathering spot for the blankets, The P.L.A.C.E. — Project Linus Activity Center Extraordinaire in the Caste Village Shopping Center in Whitehall.
“I come here twice a week. It’s my place of peace. It’s calming to be here,” said Linda Peffer of McCandless, who picks up blankets dropped off at donation centers, such as quilt shops.
Every Wednesday, a shuttle bus from a Whitehall senior center brings more than a dozen volunteers who sit, sew, check for pins, launder and prepare the blankets for delivery. When a blanketeer makes a 100th blanket, they are recognized.
Blankets are quilted, knitted, crocheted, or “non-sewn” using double-sided fleece, a favorite method for groups of children, including Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts. Emily Tolfa, a senior at Hopewell High School, discovered the organization online and involved her friends and family. Last summer she held 50/50 raffles at neighborhood pools to purchase fleece and gathered her friends and family on National Make A Blanket Day to make 15 blankets.
In addition to bins of blankets lining the walls, thank-you notes fill small spaces and albums. Most stories are happy ones, and include pictures, such as the premature twins, now healthy 1-year-olds, still clutching their blankets. A few letters just express deep gratitude.
Becky Hoadley of Peters recently dropped off 61 infant-sized blankets to The P.L.A.C.E. A retired nurse, she makes almost one a morning during the winter. She first heard of Project Linus three years ago when her newborn granddaughter died, and the hospital wrapped her in a Project Linus blanket.
One original volunteer group, Holiday Park United Methodist Church, in Plum, hosted an overnight “Blankethon” last month that produced 125 blankets. They hold 24-hour blanket making events several times a year and smaller groups meet twice a month. In nine years the group has made more than 8,000 blankets, said member Karla Floyd, of Plum.
“Our group has been blessed to have been a part of this, and it has been such a blessing to each of us. In this time period every one of us has had a medical issue or loss, and we know how important something like this can be,” said Mrs. Floyd.
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Jane Miller, freelance writer: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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