Project Linus gives thousands of handmade blankets to children in need – and an equal amount of smiles to the local women who sew them
All over Seminole County, children and teens in need or crisis are being surrounded in handmade love by people they’ve never even met. The Central Florida chapter of Project Linus, a national organization named after the lovable Peanuts character and his trusty blankie, launched 16 years ago. Since its inception, the local organization has donated more than 35,000 handmade blankets to area hospitals, advocacy centers, foundations, pregnancy centers, and children’s homes.
The local Project Linus chapter (which also includes Orange, Osceola, Lake, and Sumter counties) has attracted more than 120 blanketeers. They include individual seamstresses, as well as volunteers from area Girl Scout troops, schools, and church groups who donate their time and materials. Sewn into each blanket is a note about where it was made, creating a special, personal connection with its recipient.
A faithful group of about a dozen blanketeers meets monthly in Lake Mary to socialize and sew at the Bernina Sewing Centre located just off of Lake Emma Road near Hobby Lobby. The shop’s classroom space is happily donated by owners Mel and Steve Hicks, who have partnered with Project Linus for 17 years. The blanketeers come from all over Seminole, Lake, and Orange counties, some driving from as far as Leesburg to attend.
During their monthly meets in Lake Mary, the blanketeers each bring their own sewing machines and are usually working on some type of quilted blanket. However, blankets donated to Project Linus can also be crocheted, knitted, and/or knotted fleece.
Several of the women who are now actively involved in the organization, like chapter coordinator Michele Mingoia who lives in Oviedo, were actually introduced to Project Linus through the shop during their own personal visits for sewing supplies.
Michele lovingly refers to the monthly group as the gang, and enjoys their fellowship. It’s one of the best parts of Project Linus, she says.
“The blanketeers are such nice ladies to work with,” Michele says. “You can tell when you’re working with them that while they’re making a blanket for a kid they’ve never met, that blanket will be made with the same kind of care as if it were for their own children or grandchildren.”
And the gang doesn’t discriminate based on skill level. A range of abilities from beginner to professional seamstresses can be found at the meet-ups. Cousins Joy Dever and Tina Dover from Altamonte and Winter Park still consider themselves novices but are pumping out several quilts a month for Project Linus.
Joy discovered Project Linus through the Girl Scouts 25 years ago and has been involved ever since. Most of her contributions have been knotted fleece blankets, but she enjoys learning all there is to know about quilting through the monthly get-togethers in Lake Mary.
Joy introduced Tina to the organization two years ago as an opportunity for them to spend quality time together while giving back to the community. The cousins go shopping for supplies and often work on quilt designs together.
“The ladies keep me coming back,” says Tina. “And it gets me out of the house. To think some kid is really going to love this is so special. You can make only so many quilts for your family!”
Tina estimates she averages two quilts a month, bringing her lifetime contribution to Project Linus close to 50 quilts.
“It’s a great feeling, it really is,” Joy says of knowing a child in need will one day be wrapped in the blanket she made. “There are not too many other places you can volunteer like this and make a difference in a child’s life.”
In the wake of major national disasters, Michele says Project Linus chapters will often come together and send large donations to the affected areas. But sometimes it’s closer to home. The Central Florida chapter recently sent some blankets to the children of fallen police officers in Kissimmee.
Carol Dye from Winter Springs has been sewing – sometimes professionally – for almost 60 years, but she loves coming to Lake Mary every month and learning something new from all the ladies. She admits that hanging out with the girls is one of her favorite parts about being involved.
“You can tell we have a good time here,” says Carol. “They make us very welcome.”
Carol estimates she spends about four hours a week sewing for Project Linus. Hearing stories about how some foster children take their Project Linus blankets to school when they don’t have jackets to wear is something that stirs Carol on.
“That one little thing will keep you coming back to help,” she says.
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