Members of Caring Stitches gather at Joy Banton’s home with the first batch of blankets and hats they will donate to children this year. BACK ROW (l-r): Annu Sharma, Doris Clark, Banton, Carla Linn, Dottie Costonis, Liz Geller, Susan Goldberg, Josette Ridosh. FRONT ROW (l-r): Gladys Schwadron, Tee Kerin, Maria Inés Ground and Melissa Maynes. Tim Stepien/The Coastal Star
By Joyce Reingold
Each month, members of the Boca Raton Welcome Club and the New Club of Boca Raton come together as Caring Stitches, a steadfast group of women who crochet and knit blankets to swaddle the tiniest of hospital newborns and bring a touch of home to children in foster care.
As Caring Stitches launched its 11th year in January, members’ hands, knitting needles and crochet hooks were on their way to creating the first of approximately 50 blankets they will donate to children and teens this year. Twice annually, they deliver these soft goods to the South Florida chapter of Project Linus, a Missouri-based organization that distributes blankets to neonatal intensive care units, hospitals, social service agencies, schools and other settings. Since 1995, Project Linus has gifted more than 7 million blankets to children across the U.S.
“I am very grateful for their continued support,” Kathy Adams, coordinator of the South Florida chapter, said of Caring Stitches. “They never waver. We’re talking 40 to 50 blankets each year.”
Adams, a volunteer from Boca Raton, says 99 percent of the blankets made in a South Florida county remain there. Last year, the chapter distributed a record 3,300 blankets.
Joy Banton, the Welcome Club’s publicity chairwoman, hosted the early January gathering at her Delray Beach home, still festive in its Christmas trim. Though their names say Boca Raton, the Welcome Club and New Club draw members from a wide swath of Palm Beach and northern Broward counties. The clubs promote friendship through their own schedules of social events and, collectively, through Caring Stitches.
“Meetings are very warm and friendly; there’s no dissension. It’s nice. It’s like a home away from home,” said Melissa Maynes, a New Club member from Boca Raton who co-chairs Caring Stitches with Maria Inés Ground of the Welcome Club.
They call it a labor of love and it’s a welcome outlet for nimble fingers stilled for a time after children and grandchildren aged out of knitted and crocheted gifts or had just reached a saturation point.
Like most members, Doris Clark learned to knit and crochet as a child. By age 20, she’d become expert enough to crochet a dress and jacket. And then like many of her sisters in yarn, she packed the hobby away to make way for new adventures.
Now, she says it’s her favorite club activity. Clark, of Boca Raton, alternates between knitting and crocheting to keep from getting bored. But whether she’s using knitting needles or a crochet hook, there’s one constant: “The yarn has to be quite colorful,” she said.
Caring Stitches has an annual yarn budget of $400, which creates lively outings for the co-chairs. “Melissa and I go shopping to buy all the yarn for six months,” Ground said. “It’s such fun. Everyone looks at us because our carts are so full.”
Each member brings her own creativity to a project, selecting favorite stitches and creating custom patterns. And while the makers have much creative license, they adhere to all Project Linus specifications on sizes, materials and other matters.
When a blanket is completed, it’s laundered, folded and tied with a length of yarn. Its creator attaches a card marked with her first name and the blanket’s size. That’s all the recipient will know about his or her guardian angel.
Adams says the blankets bring excitement and joy. “The nurses go crazy,” she said. “They say, ‘Oh, this would be perfect for Joey,’ or ‘I have to have this for Sarah.’”
At the meeting, club members surveyed the finished blankets and tiny hats fashioned from yarn remnants ready for donation. They compared notes on materials and pattern choices and admired each other’s work.
“This one looks like a confetti cake,” a member said, pointing to a cheerful blanket dotted with pastel-colored flecks.
Everyone wanted to touch a fuzzy, textured blanket knitted with variegated yarn. “It’s chunky,” said Dottie Costonis, of Boca Raton, the blanket’s creator. “I had to take it away from my husband. I may have to knit him one.”
“I like the soft baby yarn,” said Josette Ridosh, a Delray Beach woman who alternates between knitting and crocheting, switching when her hands tire. The key is busy hands. “It keeps me away from temptation.”
Knitting and crocheting also may reduce stress and improve mood, according to a 2014 Craft Yarn Council study. From what they say, Caring Stitches members validate those findings and would add a few more.
“It’s the companionship and camaraderie, talking about knitting, and the family,” Ridosh said. “We solve all the problems of the world.”
For information about Caring Stitches, contact Maria Inés Ground at email@example.com. To learn more about Project Linus, visit www.projectlinusfl.org or email Kathy Adams at firstname.lastname@example.org.