To fully appreciate the group of women that meets every first and third Wednesday of the month in the reception room at the Church of Our Saviour, you have to picture a room full of grandmothers on rocking chairs knitting or crocheting - minus the rocking chairs. What's left are a dozen dedicated volunteers diligently working to supply blankets for needy kids in the area.
Project Linus is a nationwide group of volunteers whose goal is to provide security blankets to children facing substantial distress in their lives. The project is inspired by the Peanuts cartoon character Linus Van Pelt, who always carries his "security blanket." The group believes that every child has the right to feel secure in the world.
The organization was founded in 1995 in Parker, Colo., when a woman named Karen Loucks read about a little girl whose security blanket helped her through three years of intense chemotherapy. Loucks began to make blankets for other sick children.
The Secaucus chapter, which is the only one operating in Hudson County, was formed last June by Harmon Cove resident Paula Foerder, although the group of women only received their charter in November.
Since June, the busy dozen have produced 120 blankets. One woman, Carol Schultz - a virtual blanket-making magician - has accounted for between 50 and 70 of these.
"I do about two or three a week," Schultz said.
Since 1995, the 350 Project Linus chapters in the United States and Canada have delivered over 550,000 handmade blankets to facilities and individuals
Although original focused on cancer patients, Project Linus has expanded its focus to include any serious ill or traumatized children, including children waiting for organ transplants, facing heart surgery, with AIDS or suffering from burns, dealing with child abuse, or suffering from other life-threatening conditions. Some chapters supply homeless shelters, hospices and behavioral clinics covering age groups from birth to 17.
Foerder said she organized the chapter to give something back to the community. While these dozen women meet at the church every first and third Wednesday of the month, she said, "You don't have to come to the meeting to be a blanketeer."
People can also help by donations of supplies. The Secaucus chapter does not accept money, as any cash must go to the national organization. The local group needs blankets and quilts, yarn, batting, fabric, paper and envelopes, ink jet refills, use of a copy machine, stamps, gift certificates, and organizations or businesses willing to act as drop-off points.
"You can even donate unfinished blankets or assorted knitting goods you kept meaning to finish or use in making something for family members," Foerder said.
One woman called after her mother had died to ask if Foerder wanted knitted squares the mother had made. "Some of the women attached edges to the squares, others made these into a blanket," she said. "It was a joint effort."
Project Linus is all-volunteer. Everyone involved donates time, materials and efforts in making these blankets There are an estimated 1,400 blanketeers nationwide, making a variety of items.
"This chapter focuses on quilts, crocheted or fleece blankets," Foerder said. "These must be new, handmade, washable and in child-friendly colors. This means bright cheery colors."
Foerder said she heard about the program from her sister in Canada, who was involved in blanket-making there.
So far Foerder has distributed 70 blankets to the Tomorrow's Children Institute, which treats pediatric cancer and blood disorders at Hackensack University Medical Center, and 20 blankets to the Audrey Hepburn Children's Home for abused children in Hackensack. To date, she has not received any letters in response the way other chapters have, nor put the blankets directly into the hands of children, but she said she expects both will occur in the future.
A peaceful occupation
Once blankets are finished, the group attaches two labels, one from the national organization that includes an inspirational poem, the other from the local chapter.
The room buzzes with conversation as the women work. Several women say they like the idea that they are helping also to preserve a craft that had largely vanished from everyday life. Most chat as they work, part of a social gathering several called "peaceful."
Schultz said they often talk about patterns and what's going on around them in the world. The women use a variety of designs and patterns with sets of instructions that allow them to shape complicated weaving. Marlene Quinn is working on a diamond patterned blanket.
Schultz said she previously belonged to a chapter in Bayonne she found via the Internet. She had seen an episode of Oprah with a film clip about people making blankets.
"I was really touched," she said.
When the Bayonne chapter dissolved, she continued to make blankets, bringing them to local hospital on her own. She worked at Hackensack Hospital at the time.
"When I heard about this chapter, I came here," she said, noting that knitting had a health benefit. "You can eat and knit at the same time," she said.
Peggy Firtion said she had been sewing for many years.
"I don't crochet," she said. "So I'm doing a quilt instead."
She said she was introduced to the program by Edna Mondadori, a church woman known for her organizational skills.
"You can do this and do others things at the same time, like watching TV or traveling," she said, adding hastily, "as long as you're not doing the driving."
Frances Fedaenheuer, the retired town nurse, said she does most of her blanket-making in the evenings while watching TV.
Lois Evel said she had made Afghans for years, but ran out of friends and family to give them, too.
"So now I give them to needy children," she said.
Ruth Angelo is making a quilt with the cartoon character of Tigger embroidered onto it. She said she just finished one with Eyor - both are characters from A.A. Milne's classic books on "Winnie the Pooh." But Angelo said she didn't know who Eyor was until a great grandchild pointed out the pessimistic donkey.
"Since then I've been making all the characters for the children," she said.
With a little help from their friends
PSE&G has offered to help the group. Foerder said her chapter will distribute more blankets with PSE&G over the holiday season, part of a cooperative effort with the power company. PSE&G has been involved with Linus Project chapters for about four years and is offering drop-off points for blankets throughout Hudson County. These will be distributed to children in pediatric wards at local hospitals such as St. Mary's Hospital in Hoboken during the holiday season.
The preferred sizes are 30 by 36 inches for infants and 40 by 60 inches for older children. Blankets may be knitted, crocheted or quilted.
"The children are always so thankful that someone cared enough about them to make a blanket to help make their difficult times a little easier to bear," said Richard Dwyer, Public Affairs manager for PSE&G. "Children get a noticeable sense of security through blankets."
People can drop off blankets and materials at any of the PSE&G customer service centers in Hudson County. These are located at 608 Broadway in Bayonne, Three Path Plaza in Journal Square in Jersey City, 615 Washington St. in Hoboken or 4808 Bergenline Avenue in Union City.
People can also donate goods to the Church of Our Saviour at Second Street and Flanagan Way in Secaucus. To volunteer for Project Linus or donate materials, call Paula Foerder at (201) 866-0131. More information is available on the Project Linus Headquarters web site at www.projectlinus.org.