Nothing conveys comfort like a cozy blanket—even more so when you know it’s handmade with wishes sewn, crocheted, or tied.
That’s the philosophy Project Linus and a growing team of ERIE family members who have signed on with the nonprofit group as “blanketeers.” Blanketeers is the name the group has given volunteer blanket makers. They knit, crochet, cover or tie blankets for children in need due to trauma, illness or other causes.
Project Linus has distributed nearly 9 million blankets since 1995. ERIE Blanketeers has committed to adding 50 to that total by the end of the year through a project they call the ERIE Blue Blanket Drive.
Inspiration with a hook
Darren Trautman, project manager, Sales & Product Strategy & Program Management, got the whole ball rolling.
Recently returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, and inspired by his community-minded fiancé to contribute in some way, Darren said he thought, “What’s my thing? What’s really important to me?”
Additional inspiration came through a friend’s adoption of a foster child and the realization that children in the foster care system come to new homes with nothing to call their own, he said.
Sew to action
Hoping to connect his 20-year hobby of crocheting with an inspiring cause, Darren did some soul searching and Google. He found that other craft charities had rules about what yarn to use and other fiddly details. Project Linus had “only three small requirements,” he said. “No wool (due to allergies), donated items must be new and handmade – that’s it.”
A bonus for Darren, who joined ERIE in November and strives to get other ERIE employees involved: The nonprofit accepts hand-knotted fleece blankets. They require no special skills or experience, and one can be completed in about an hour.
He sent an email asking for volunteers for the Sales & Products division and training ERIE Service Corps requirements with ERIE’s Diversity & Community Development Department.
“I was pleasantly surprised to learn how open ERIE is to supporting a cause in any way you want to give,” said Darren.
Hooked on a great thing
About a month in, the effort has 40 volunteers and has completed 20 blankets toward its goal.
The West Virginia sales team created the latest addition during a July 21 meeting. Kam Lawson, senior business support specialist, organized the service project.
“I make quilts and have seen this advertised in quilt magazines, but it really hit home after seeing ERIE employees take it on as a project to provide 50 quilts,” Kam said. “After getting directions to the knotted quilts, I thought it was something our sales team could do at our meeting.”
She cut the fleece and laid out the blanket to be tied to start the meeting. Many hands make the job easy.
Another example: In June, 11 ERIE Blanketeers held a blanketeering session in the Thomas B. Hagen Building. They knitted, crocheted and knotted fleece blankets.
The group also heard about the Project Linus mission—and got tips on how to make the fleece blankets—from Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter coordinator Joann Burkhardt, who is shown accepting the first ERIE blankets from Darren in the photo above. The chapter donated more than 4,000 blankets last year, all of which stay local.
At the end of the session, they completed eight blankets to provide comfort to children in need.
Darren is pleased with the progress, but he is also looking for more ideas to engage the ERIE Blanketeers. “Hopefully there’ll be something fun,” he said. “If anyone has ideas on how to get involved, or to get their team involved, I’d love to hear them!”
Give back to great causes
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