They are easily spotted with their cheerful patterns and wonderfully matched colors that symbolize love, strength and comfort for children and adults who suffer from cancer or have been through a trauma or are homeless or abused.
Created by the "blanketeers," as the volunteers call themselves, from Project Linus, the security blankets come in all types. They can be quilts, tied comforters, fleece blankets, crocheted or knitted afghans, all with a little tag reading "Made with tender loving care for Project Linus."
The Northern Virginia Chapter, one of 300 Project Linus Chapters across the country, was started 3 1/2 years ago by JoAnn Holley of Herndon, who was inspired by a news article she read. "Sometimes you cannot donate oodles of money to a charity, but you can certainly take an afternoon and sew blankets for children,” Holley said.
And to find volunteers? "I do very little if any advertising, mostly it goes from word of mouth," Holley said, adding that it speaks to the heart of people. “When she calls us to come and work, we just come and work,” said Becky Ross of Herndon, one of the blanketeers and also president of the PTA for Clearview Elementary School in Herndon, which sponsors the use of the school's cafeteria for Project Linus. “When something happens that is tragic, they will always have the blanket as a memory of comfort," Ross said.
"The blankets are very comforting, and you can wrap yourself in them, too," said Janette Siebs of Herndon, who was working on a quilt. Last year, Siebs lost a baby and was given a blanket while she was in the hospital, a blanket that she still keeps for comfort. "Whenever I want to be close to her, I hold the blanket and I hug the blanket" Siebs said.
“I like to have a hands-on project that will help the community,” said Christina Dentz of Reston, referring to the commitment the Northern Virginia Chapter has to children’s hospitals as well as to family shelters and group homes for adolescents. A total of 14 organizations in the area are recipients of the security blankets from the chapter.
SOME OF THE BLANKETS ARE PIECED TOGETHER at home and later finished during the blanket-making days. “It has been a pleasure working on the blankets, and it is fun to see what other people have made which will appeal to the children,” said Barbara Kauneckas of Herndon, doing the finishing work on one of the quilts.
Other blankets are already finished when handed in. In addition, there are also designated drop-off zones in the county.
To join, there is no need to have earlier experience in knitting, crocheting or quilt-making. Volunteers learn by doing. "I have learned a lot about how to sew and match the colors, and right now I am doing crocheting," said Brooke Ross, 11, as she was working on a blanket with a design of children and angels that symbolized hope, love and faith.
Some groups have their own blanket-making days as well. Mary Ivey of Annandale, senior Scout from Troop 547 Senior Scouts, collected materials and ran two quilt days, inviting all Girl Scouts in the area. A total of 140 participants finished 24 quilts, and an additional 40 were partially finished in two days. This earned Mary the Gold Award, which is the highest award in Girl Scouts.
THE NORTHERN VIRGINIA CHAPTER receives fabrics from various organizations and individuals — everything from church bulletins to someone's old curtains. "I love it when people clean out their closets and give old fabrics to us," Holley said.
The week following Sept. 11, Holley saw the need of blankets for the families stricken by the tragic event. "The weekend this happened, I had only 60 blankets in my house, but through e-mail I managed to reach everyone," Holley said. Within days, the chapter had received 160 blankets not only from the blanketeers of Northern Virginia but also from others across the country. In all, 890 blankets were given to The Pentagon Family Crisis/Grief Counseling Center, of which 290 came from The Northern Virginia Chapter. An additional number were sent to New York. "I think we all know that our blankets won't bring answers to why this kind of terrorism happens, or change any of the horrific events of that day, but I do hope that our blankets of love can comfort the people whose lives will be forever changed," Holley wrote in her newsletter following Sept. 11.
The Northern Virginia Chapter also helps Project Linus National Headquarters in donating blankets for children across the world. One of these international donations has been for Afghan women and their babies.
ALONG WITH INTERNATIONAL BLANKET CONTRIBUTIONS from the Northern Virginia Chapter, there are an additional 14 shelters, hospices and hospitals on the recipient list of the Northern Virginia Chapter.
"The blankets are very popular and a wonderful gift," said Terry Orzechowski, director of volunteer and consumer support at Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C. According to Orzechowski, the hospice has received several hundreds of blankets for children and teen-agers. "The children wrap the blankets around themselves, and the teen-agers are equally pleased with the blankets, wearing them over their shoulders", said Orzechowski.
Ronald McDonald Houses in Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia have been long-term recipients of blankets from Project Linus.
"They have been a wonderful gift and a real comfort to the children and their families, said Sarah Glass, manager of Ronald McDonald Houses in Washington, D.C.
"We started giving the blankets to the campers at Point of Hope," said Jean McCaw, coordinator for the Child and Adolescence Program for Hospice in Northern Virgina. Point of Hope is a weekend camp for children grieving a loved one. "They love them,” said McCaw, remembering the children cuddling up and hugging the blankets. "One child was so touched that she wrote a letter back to the creator of her blanket," she said. This year, there will be camps and home-care programs for children, teen-agers and adults.
As of January 2002, the Project Linus Chapters have donated over 400,000 security blankets across the world, and as long as there is a need for more blankets, they will continue. ”I get more out of this than I ever thought," said Holley. "I have met the most phenomenal and generous people that will never cease to amaze me.”
<lst>The current recipients for the Northern Virginia Chapter Project Linus are Hospice of Northern Virginia, Inova Fairfax Hospital in Falls Church; Children's Hospital in Washington, D.C.; The Hospital for Sick Children in Washington, D.C.; Loudoun Hospital Center in Leesburg; The Alice C. Tyler Village of Childhelp East in Lignum; Loudoun Area Women's Shelter; Embry Rucker Shelter in Reston; Ronald McDonald Houses of Washington, D.C., and Northern Virginia; Alternative House in Vienna; For Love of Children in Washington, D.C.; Operation Smile; Fairfax County Foster Care Association; and the American Red Cross.
The Northern Virginia Chapter of Project Linus has its blanket-making days at different locations in Herndon, and usually there is a meeting every third month. However, when there is a need for more blankets, the meetings are more frequent. For more information on how to get involved in Project Linus, contact JoAnn Holley at 703-437-4764, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or visit the national Web site at www.projectlinus.org.