One source of comfort for Daniel's parents during that difficult time was a beautiful blanket that had been made by a local stranger and placed in his tiny incubator.
When Daniel is old enough, may one day read the tag sewn to his blanket - "Made with tender loving care for Project Linus" - and learn the origins of his special gift.
With 406 chapters across the country, including one based in Hudson County, Project Linus volunteers have knitted, crocheted, and quilted an estimated 2.2 million blankets for hospitalized children and other youngsters in need since the non-profit was founded in 1995.
Project Linus holds an annual Make a Blanket Day at the Secaucus Public Library. The half-day event reintroduces the community to the organization and, hopefully, brings new members into the fold.
This year, Make a Blanket Day will take place at the Secaucus Public Library on Feb. 9 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Knitters, crocheters, and quilters of all skill levels are welcome, as long as they are over the age of 7. Those unfamiliar with the needle arts are welcome to attend the event and help finish fleece blankets that will also be donated to sick children and other young people in crisis.
"We try to get people involved by telling them, 'You're either helping a child who is ill, who has a really debilitating disease, like cancer, or you may be helping a child who had to be rushed to the emergency room for some reason,'" said Liz Zawacki, coordinator of the Project Linus Hudson-Bergen Chapter.
Zawacki, who lives in Bayonne, said that the thank-you notes she receives from parents, like the one from Daniel Jeffrey's father, helps to keep her members focused and energized.
"The thank-you notes encourage the members to continue doing what they're doing and it helps them see that what they're doing is actually of some value," she said.
65 local volunteers
The Hudson-Bergen Project Linus chapter, which includes roughly 65 volunteers from Secaucus, has made and donated a staggering 9,300 blankets since it was launched in 2002.
Headquartered in Illinois, Project Linus recruits knitters, crocheters, and quilters to make blankets - either by hand or machine - to be donated to children and other youths who are either hospitalized or living in different types of shelters, such as homeless shelters or halfway homes.
At present, the Hudson-Bergen chapter gives blankets to five hospitals - Jersey City Medical Center, Hackensack Medical Center, Englewood Hospital, Valley Hospital, and Joseph's Children's Hospital. It also donates to two safe haven shelters for battered women and their children.
The volunteers, whom the organization affectionately calls "blanketeers," are free to create items based on their own original designs or patters. They also may pull from the organization's diverse collection of suggested patters that, Zawacki said, can accommodate needle artists of any skill level.
All completed blankets, which must be made from either acrylic yarn or cotton fabric, and cannot have any fringe, are washed, bagged and given to child life specialists at the hospitals and shelters.
Zawacki admits that her chapter has benefited from donations from several knitting groups, in addition to the work of her core members.
"We tracked down the head of a knitting group in Elmwood Park," Zawacki said. "Then another person contacted me after she heard about us. She belongs to a group in Wallington. Once you get these groups involved, they start having their own meetings, they knit and crochet and donate items to us. When you get to the right people, it all just falls into place."
Giving back to the community
Zawacki, who knows how to knit and crochet but whose main needlecraft is patchwork quilting, said she got involved in Project Linus "just by chance." Years ago, she recounted, she and a friend were standing in the checkout line at a fabric store when her friend struck up a conversation with another shopper in line.
"She happened to be buying fabric for quilts for Project Linus," Zawacki said. "That's how we heard about it and my friend and I joined."
Later, Zawacki took over as chapter coordinator after her predecessor moved away from New Jersey to be closer to her family.
As chapter coordinator, Zawacki recruits volunteers, reaches out to local knitting groups that might be interested in making blankets, maintains quality control, and serves as a liaison between the organization and the hospitals and shelters to which the chapter donates.
Zawacki has a core group of 40 women who meet regularly and who work closely with her.
"We have a couple groups of seniors who work on their own, if you will," she said. "I'll periodically go pick up blankets from them, or they send them to me."
In all, she estimates that 65 to 70 Secaucus women have passed through Project Linus at one time or other.
For more information about Project Linus, call Zawacki at (201) 437-0272.