by Emma Polen | features editor
Feb 24, 2022
The best kind of sleep under heaven above, is under a blanket handmade with love.
From the Bluff to Butler, the Pittsburgh community is making special contributions to a nationwide volunteer project, Project Linus, that spreads cuddly comfort to children in need.
The nonprofit’s name, Project Linus, is the result of some cartoonish appreciation. However, its mission is anything but comical.
Project Linus’ founder, Karen Loucks, was crocheting on Christmas Eve and looking through Parade Magazine, when she read about a little girl with cancer who found comfort in a blanket, said Patty Gregory, president and CEO of Project Linus.
Loucks was inspired by the article, and she started Project Linus, enlisting the help of her friends and her family, as a local volunteer initiative for Denver’s Rocky Mountain Children’s Cancer Center.
“Now we’re everywhere,” Gregory said. To date, Project Linus has over 300 chapters across all 50 states.
Since its founding, the blanket-making coalition has delivered more than 8.6 million blankets across the U.S., and more than 203,600 blankets in the greater Pittsburgh area’s chapter alone.
On Sunday, Feb. 20, Duquesne’s Alpha Sigma Tau (AST)sorority hosted a Project Linus blanket-making event in the NiteSpot.
The social sorority’s philanthropy is Make a Wish, so Project Linus “correlated with that really well,” said Olivia Lavin, a junior nursing student.
Lavin was in charge of planning and putting together materials for the event.
Before she had even purchased the fleece for AST’s blanket-making activity, Lavin said she was already feeling the impact of Project Linus.
The woman waiting at the checkout next to her at JoAnn Fabrics saw the materials in Lavin’s cart, and upon learning what the fabric was for, the anonymous customer donated $30 to Lavin’s blanket material fund.
“Just like that,” Lavin said. “Anyone can do this.”
Maddia Tronoski, a freshman psychology major and a new sister of AST, knew she was benefiting a group in need, with some personal benefits as well.
“It’s such a therapeutic activity,” Tronoski said. “And…you can make someone smile.”
Groups across the city meet regularly to contribute to this blanket-making community. Every Saturday, Three Rivers Crochet and Knitting meets in the little meeting room in the back of the Panera Bread on the Boulevard of the Allies.
Carol Rose is a member of Three Rivers Crochet who makes Project Linus blankets on a regular basis.
“I like to crochet, [and] there’s only so many blankets you can make for your family,” she said.
Rose cannot remember how many years she’s been making blankets for Project Linus, but she has maintained the same simple pattern: a white crochet blanket with a splash of color.
“It’s comforting for a child to have a blanket,” she said. She has already made several for her grandsons, and Project Linus serves as another opportunity for her to do what she loves while also sharing that love with children in need.
Like Lavin, Rose knows her blankets were making a difference, but never intended to see the results of her blanket-making endeavors.
One day, years ago, “I was in JoAnn Fabrics buying yarn to make blankets, and I was undecided about which color yarn to buy,” Rose recalled.
There was a woman standing in the yarn area, and Rose asked her what color she liked best for the crochet blanket she was making for Project Linus.
Upon realizing what the blanket materials were for, the woman began thanking Rose and explained her son had received a Project Linus blanket when he was born premature and was in the ICU.
“That’s the closest I’ve ever come to knowing anybody who got a blanket. But it meant a lot to me,” Rose said.
St. Luke’s Lutheran Church in Saxonburg is one of many churches across Pittsburgh who have been volunteering for Project Linus.
Gayle Gundlach, 75, is head of the sewing ministry at St. Luke’s.
Last year, the group made over 400 blankets, she said.
While Project Linus is a major focus of the blanket-making, the group has also donated to immigrant shelters and nursing homes.
“Everybody gets to make what they want,” Gundlach said. “If we know someone that needs a blanket…we’re always looking for an outlet.”
The sewing ministry meets once every other week from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The group of women, ranging from their 60s to their 90s, has lunch together and then works together to create each blanket.
“It [is] a real social atmosphere,” Gundlach said.
Project Linus has already coordinated convenient drop-off locations, so all volunteers need to worry about is making the blankets.
JoAnn Fabrics stores accept Project Linus blanket donations in designated boxes in-store. Participating locations can be found on their website.
The PLACE, or Project Linus Activity Center Extraordinaire, is the main Project Linus hub for the Pittsburgh area and is where all blanket donations eventually go before distribution.
“It’s our happy place,” said Lois Misko, the Project Linus Greater Pittsburgh chapter coordinator.
PLACE is located in the Shoppes at Caste Village in the South Hills.
They take all the blankets made by volunteers across the city, ensure that they meet their strict safety requirements, label each blanket with a Project Linus tag and then distribute them to the facilities in need of their blankets.
Covid has unfortunately made it difficult for Project Linus to reach out to all of its typical recipients.
Since the pandemic started, “[UPMC] Children’s Hospital has not accepted a donation of any kind, [including] toys,” Misko said. Unless donations are done through their website, the hospital is very strict about what they allow inside with their patients.
This has not stopped Project Linus from making the most of their steady stream of donations.
Misko began reaching out to social service agencies to provide for families facing difficulties related to Covid, job loss and other difficult circumstances.
Last year, Project Linus donated around 3,000 blankets to Children, Youth and Family Services, according to Misko.
While there is no way to reach out to a recipient of a Project Linus blanket directly due to anonymity, the PLACE has received countless thank you messages from families who have felt the warm results of Project Linus.
Pittsburgh families who receive the blankets are usually “just so touched that a stranger, a total stranger, would take the time to make a blanket that they received,” Misko said.
Some families even go as far as writing a handwritten message to share their gratitude with Project Linus.
“Thank you so much for the beautiful crochet blanket that we received at Children’s while my daughter was in for surgery for a broken ankle,” one mother shared. “It kept her cozy and warm during her 2 night stay and will be a cherished keepsake once we get home.”