North Shore Women Looking for a Good Match

Matching grant expires June 30

There’s a group of women in Northfield who are looking for matches.

No, not that kind of match!

These are the “Blanket Ladies” at the North Shore Senior Center (NSSC) who make fleece blankets for chemotherapy patients at area hospitals. Their project, “Share the Warmth,” is running out of funds, and they’re seeking donations for a matching grant that expires June 30.

About three years ago, Ruth Silverman, formerly of Wilmette, started a NSSC volunteer program where eager knitters and crocheters gathered together to make hats, scarves, mittens, etc. for the homeless and needy. Over time, this expanded to include blankets for Project Linus  (http://www.projectlinus.org/ ), an organization that provides children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or needy with handmade “comfort” blankets.

An article about the group appeared in a local newspaper and attracted the notice of a nurse from the University of Chicago Hospital. Would the volunteers be willing to make blankets for patients undergoing chemotherapy at the hospital?

Up to this point, Ruth had been funding the program herself by purchasing yarn, fabric and other materials out of her personal budget. With this new request, Kathryn McDonnell, NSSC’s director of marketing, took an active interest in the project and obtained seed money.

“Share the Warmth” was born.

“Now, we had to try to figure out how we were going to sustain the program,” Ruth recalls. Several articles appeared in local newspapers, and donations helped to subsidize the purchase of materials. The volunteers’ focus became creating handmade blankets exclusively for chemotherapy patients at the Kellogg Cancer Centers at Glenbrook, Evanston and Highland Park Hospitals along with the University of Chicago Hospital.

Where does this activity take place?

The North Shore Senior Center in Northfield provides a welcome place for the volunteers to make the blankets as well as ample storage space for the materials and finished blankets.

Who are these volunteers?

“In the beginning,” Ruth says, “there were only about 8 of us” who were members of the North Shore Senior Center. Now, there are about 10-12 volunteers who meet each Friday to cut the fleece, wind and measure yarn, create “kits” by matching fabric patterns to colorful yarn, crochet decorative edging around blankets, sew on labels, and package finished blankets with hand-written notes for delivery to cancer patients. An additional 40 or so volunteers pick up blanket “kits” to crochet at home.

Ruth Silverman, herself a breast cancer survivor, continues to lead the group and is primarily responsible for buying fleece and yarn. She considers herself a “power shopper,” watching for sales and clipping coupons to stretch the program’s budget.

“Share the Warmth” is aligned with North Shore Senior Center’s mission: “to foster the independence and well-being of older adults, enhance their dignity and self respect, and promote their participation in and contribution toward all aspects of community life.” Volunteers in the core group that meet weekly look forward to the camaraderie and interaction they share with one another.

The program is “so fulfilling to them,” Ruth says. “They are extremely close to one another. A lot of friendships have been formed.” In fact, these volunteers support one another in other ways, such as driving to medical appointments and even extending invitations for Thanksgiving dinner. “I enjoy the company of all the ladies in our group and making the blankets,” says Irene Boldt of Northfield. “They are so appreciated by the patients going through treatment.”

“Share the Warmth has given me such a great sense of purpose and satisfaction, knowing I’m helping someone feel better,” says Carol Hirsch of Northfield. “I look forward to our Fridays with all my new friends. We laugh, learn to crochet and have so much fun together helping others.”

New volunteers receive a warm welcome. Those who don’t know how to crochet receive instruction and guidance from a more experienced volunteer. Ingrid Persson of Northbrook shares her experience: “I walked into the NSSC after reading about their knitting and crocheting programs, became very interested and met some very fun and interesting people. We feel that we are contributing to a need in the community.”

Who receives the blankets?

Each month, over 100 chemotherapy patients receive a blanket at the start of their treatment, and the blanket is theirs to keep. Several recipients and family members have written to the volunteers to thank them for the warmth and comfort that they experience, knowing that the handmade blanket surrounds them with love.

The “Share the Warmth” volunteers would like to start expanding the program to more hospitals, but sustaining the program is the first priority. Financial support has diminished, and costs have increased since the program started; the average cost of a blanket is about $8.00 — $9.00.

In addition to donations for the matching grant, “We’re looking for an ‘angel,’” Ruth explains, one who would be willing to underwrite the program and enable the volunteers to meet the growing number of requests for the handmade blankets. 

For more information, contact Kathryn McDonnell, Director of Development and Marketing at the North Shore Senior Center, at (847) 784-6057 or kmcdonnell@nssc.org. Donations can be made to Share the Warmth--North Shore Senior Center, 161 Northfield Road, Northfield IL 60093.

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