By Desiree Johnson
Killeen Daily Herald
Warm and fuzzy is the perfect description for both Project Linus and the blankets they create.
The nonprofit organization is a national program that provides blankets for kids in crisis and the ladies of the Temple/Killeen chapter were hard at work reaching their goal of 700 blankets at their traditional Make a Blanket Day. The participants were busy ironing, sewing, crocheting and chatting up their neighbors Saturday afternoon at the Killeen Sew and Quilt Store for a cause that seemed to be close to everyone's heart.
"This is the most rewarding and exhausting thing I've ever done," said Sandra Rowell, Temple/Killeen chapter coordinator who also founded the chapter. "It's just wonderful and this is our biggest (Make a Blanket Day) ever."
Project Linus began in 1995 when founder Karen Loucks spotted a picture of a child undergoing intensive chemotherapy holding a security blanket the child said helped her get through treatments. From that moment, and now Project Linus boasts more than 400 chapters in the United States and donation numbers as high as 2 million blankets.
When Loucks was featured in a People magazine article, Rowell took notice. When she called to find her closest chapter, however, she was told there was none in Central Texas and was offered to begin a chapter.
"I said 'no' at first. All I really wanted to do was make the blankets. I thought there would be no way for me to have the time (to run a chapter)," said Rowell, who is also a 12th-grade English teacher at Harker Heights High School. "After that, it burdened my heart; I couldn't let it go. So I decided to start by teaching the kids how to make blankets and from there it just exploded."
The chapter has since donated 11,500 blankets to needy causes, all based locally.
"You've got to help your own first," Rowell said. "The only time we've shipped out blankets elsewhere was when we sent 100 blankets (to New York) after 9/11."
Each blanket is handmade with love and care by volunteers with donated materials. Participants can join the group for their daily sewing sessions, be a part of Make a Blanket Day, or pick up a Project Linus kit that includes fabric and backing, create the blanket at home and drop it off with name and phone number attached to any number of drop-off locations. Each blanket receives a Project Linus label, which features the organization's Web site and the image of their mascot: Charles Schulz's classic Peanuts comic strip character, Linus, and his signature blue blanket. From there the blankets are individually wrapped, then bagged in groups of 10 and are delivered directly to the multiple locations Project Linus keeps stocked with blankets throughout the year.
"They go to kids that have been traumatized in some way or who just need a hug. It could be any situation, from kids living in foster homes to kids who have lost parents in Iraq," Rowell said. "It's sad that the need is out there, but we're so glad we can do something about it."
While many of the donation locations don't allow the members of Project Linus to physically give their blankets to the children, most of the time in accordance with hospital rules, sometimes the blanket creators do get the opportunity to see the kids receive their blankets. The ladies know nothing about the recipients but their name and age, yet the blankets always seem to go to the most fitting owners.
"It'll turn out that the blanket they received fit perfectly with their room's decor, is their favorite color or their favorite cartoon character and they just look so happy," Rowell said. "Seeing that makes it more real that we're involved in something that's bigger than we are."
Copperas Cove resident Karen Caleffie isn't a seamstress, but she stumbled into Project Linus one year ago when she saw the group online, while she was searching for sewing instructions. Caleffie decided to use her crocheting skills to help out and she's been hooked ever since.
"It's just knowing you're helping a sick child and giving them something to hug and hold onto," Caleffie said while holding back tears. "To see them get their blankets, their eyes just light up. It's absolutely heartwarming."
Not only does Project Linus bring happiness to a suffering child, but Rowell says the group is also passing sewing and crocheting skills on to the next generation.
"I learned how to sew in home economics class and I've been crocheting since I was 11, but when I mentioned crocheting to my kids, they had no idea what I was talking about," Rowell said. "In a way, (Project Linus) is keeping an art alive, too."
The kids aren't the only ones learning about the value of a warm blanket. The Killeen Sew and Quilt store donates plenty of materials to their cause because Project Linus is an organization that's very close to heart. When store manager Jeremiah Trumble's family suffered a house fire, the family lost everything and was forced to move into a travel trailer with what little they could afford from Red Cross help funds.
"My kids didn't have anything to keep them warm until Project Linus gave them blankets. They're extremely close to us," Trumble said. "They're a wonderful group of ladies that do so much for our community. The world would be a sad place without them."
Whether or not you can sew or crochet, Rowell says what the organization does for the kids and the feelings it brings to those who participate is worth getting involved.
"We do two things: we help kids find security through blankets and we're a service organization that's an outlet for community involvement," Rowell said. "If you want a feeling of fulfillment, want to know you're making a difference in the world and want to use your talents in a positive way (or learn a new craft), Project Linus is for you."
The group hosts blanket-making sessions everyday and plans at least three Make a Blanket Days per year. They also take supply donations, financial donations and have places for those with other talents willing to volunteer, such as creating a newsletter for the Central Texas group. For more information, contact Sandra Rowell at (254) 699-1473 or check out the national organization's Web site at www.projectlinus.com. The Killeen Sew and Quilt Store (which is also a blanket drop-off location) is located at 2201 South W.S. Young Drive, No. 111C.
Contact Desiree Johnson at firstname.lastname@example.org or call (254) 501-7559