Project Linus blankets ill children in comfort, caring

When Eileen Hayes lost her job in 2002, a friend suggested that to lift her spirits, she should make blankets with the local chapter of Project Linus.

Today, the Bethel Park woman is still part of the group that meets twice a month at Christ United Methodist Church in Bethel Park to create and share ideas for new, homemade, washable blankets and afghans for ill and needy children.

''The greatest pleasure is hearing from a parent that a blanket brought a smile to their face as it helped comfort their sick child,‘‍’‍ said Mrs. Hayes, whose specialties are fleecing and crocheting. “It makes me realize my problems can't compare.‘‍’‍

Since its founding in 2002, the chapter has created and distributed 20,210 blankets to West Penn Hospital's neonatal intensive care unit, its burn center, The Children's Home, St. Clair Hospital and other local caregivers.

Blankets are also given to the Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon and Peters emergency medical services for children in auto accidents or other emergencies to wrap around themselves while being carried to police cars.

Last week, 30 blankets were sent with a medical team to Haiti.

The national, nonprofit Project Linus, headquartered in Bloomington, Ill.,is named for Charlie Brown's blanket-toting friend in the Peanuts comic strip.

With chapters in every state, it has a mission to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need.

Project Linus is also designed to provide an opportunity for crafters to use their talents and interests in a rewarding way.

All blanket styles are welcome, including quilts, comforters, fleece blankets, crocheted or knitted afghans and receiving blankets.

Blankets, the majority of which are about 40-by-60 inches, must be homemade, washable, free of pins and come from smoke-free environments due to allergy concerns.

''It's a great program for providing for children in need,'' Jody Beckwith said.

The Bethel Park woman is the South Hills area volunteer coordinator for Project Linus.

Her expertise is crocheting and quilting, and she makes two to three blankets a month.

There are 25 to 30 female ''blanketeers,'' or volunteers, with the majority ages late 50s to 60s. Members need not be church members, and everyone is welcome, regardless of crafting experience.

The group meets at the church, 44 Highland Road, from 9 to 11 a.m. on the first and third Wednesdays of each month.

The first Wednesdays are typically show-and-tell sessions of what members are making, while the third Wednesdays are more hands-on with the cutting of material, helping with problems and patterns.

Most of the blanket-making is done at home, for which blanketeers often donate more than their time and skill.

''Most of the girls do reach into their own pockets each year,'' Mrs. Hayes said of fabric and related costs, although they are largely covered by donations.

The only man who participated did so on a one-time basis when he brought 10 blankets he crocheted in hotel rooms while traveling on business. He said his wife taught him the craft.

''It gives you a nice, cozy feeling,'' Mrs. Beckwith said. ''It warms my soul, and makes me feel good, and hopefully it will make a child in need feel good.‘‍’‍

Donna Holupko is one of only about four members who uses a sewing machine in her creative efforts.

''I like the people, the good cause and the reason we make the blankets —- and I love giving them away,'' the Peters woman said.

To donate, visit: Details: or call 724-518-5076.

Margaret Smykla, freelance writer:

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