As temperatures drop, we see hats, scarves and sweaters pulled from the depths of our closets, ready to brave the cold months ahead. But for vulnerable families in our community, the availability of winter gear can be hard to come by – especially for young kids who need it the most.
Fortunately, over the last 12 years, United Way’s Hands on Greater Portland volunteer program has offered a monthly volunteer project aimed to help our community stay clothed and comforted during brisk weather – specifically helping the littlest members.
Getting Crafty for Newborns started out as a three-month event making clothing for families who were affected by Hurricane Katrina. Once the project came to a close, Kelly, the original leader of the group, was asked to stay on board in hopes to share the same impact and compassion with local kids and families in Oregon.
With a focus on premature babies, young children stemming from difficult circumstances and adults and families in need, a group was formed to create hats, scarves, sweaters and anything that could be crocheted or knitted. These handmade items would then be donated to organizations that could best distribute them – organizations like United Way partner Virginia Garcia Memorial Health Center and Randall’s Children Hospital.
“I’m very tied with the Virginia Garcia clinic, my daughter was a very young teenager when her oldest was born and she went to Virginia Garcia for her pregnancy, so that’s kind of my heart strings, it’s my first grandchild. And I know they do really good work for the community,“ said Kelly, long-time volunteer.
In fact, most of the volunteers who attend Getting Crafty for Newborns' monthly meeting feel closely connected to the mission, or to the work that needs to be done. From mothers of premature babies, to members who have been knitting and crafting for most of their lives each individual member feels closely connected to giving back to their community with their handmade items. And the project brings in new faces each month, teaching curious volunteers how to create their own scarves, blankets and the like, even going so far as to teach those who have never picked up a set of knitting needles. “We’ve had young teens, my granddaughter’s 12 and she learned how to knit, we’ve had little kids we’ve had older adults,” explained Kelly on the variety of people who walk through the doors of their meeting space.
The volunteer opportunity has evolved into a place for community members to gather, teach one another and build something that will greatly impact some of the most vulnerable families in our region.
From knitting purple hats to raise awareness for Shaken Baby Syndrome to red hats in honor of American Heart month, this dedicated group finds every chance to give back through their craft. And while focusing on infants takes priority, the group has expanded to reach everyone and anyone in need. Kelly explained, “Sometimes you make something and it ends up bigger than you expect, and they end up at Virginia Garcia; they can use anything and everything and they’re very grateful.” Nothing goes unused.
LiAnna, the current volunteer leader of the group, and a consistent volunteer within many of Hands on Greater Portland’s opportunities, understands the emotional need for handmade items, as well as the physical need. “They don’t have and somebody made this for them. It’s personal, whether they know us or not, they know somebody made this,” she began, “I see the kids that need backpacks, well there [are] babies in that family too. And the babies need hats and sweaters and blankets, it’s a whole family issue.”
With a combination of donated fabric from members within the group and external sources, hundreds of items are being donated each year. Each sweater, scarf and hat serves a purpose – for a new parent, a new baby or anyone who may be struggling.
As Kelly recounted her own struggles with getting by as a new parent, she recalled receiving a personalized crocheted blanket from a friend years before, "I was married and had absolutely nothing, we didn’t have any money to buy anything for our baby. And I remember, someone made me a handmade crocheted blanket, and I still have it…it’s just the idea that someone did that for me, and for my baby, when I didn’t have anything. So I’m happy to do that for other people.”
From the personal touch that comes from receiving something handmade, to providing resources for our local families, a major impact is being made from this ever-growing group. LiAnna closed with, “There’s a need and we can help." And with such a dedicated team of volunteers, that need is being met.
For more volunteer opportunities like this one, visit the Hands on Greater Portland website.