Denise Dee of Sag Harbor, N.Y. (pop. 2,313), learned how to crochet during her summer 2001 break as a high school guidance counselor, and began an ambitious project to knit baby blankets for her four nieces and nephews. As she spent months crocheting each blanket, Dee began to wonder if she could use her newfound hobby to help others.
“As a guidance counselor, they always tell you that if you make a difference in one kid’s life, it’s enough,” says Dee, 39. “But I wondered, ‘Am I making enough of a difference?’”
When she finished the blankets for her family, she thought it would be nice if she and fellow crocheters and knitters could make blankets for children in need. Her idea remained just a dream for two years until Dee learned about several students who were giving up their vacations to go on a church mission trip. “They made me think that I needed to do more to help those less fortunate,” she says.
Inspired by the students’ selfless act, Dee mentioned her blankets for the needy idea in early 2004 in the St. Andrew’s church bulletin in Sag Harbor, where it quickly grabbed the interest of two local knitting groups. Carolyn Hendrickson, librarian and head of the John Jermain Memorial Public Library Knitting Circle, was happy to get her group involved.
“Nobody knows what to do with all the stuff they knit anyway,” Hendrickson says with a laugh. “You can only knit so much for your family.” The group began making blankets as well as sweaters, hats, booties and mittens.
Soon after, Dee founded Cover Me With Love, an organization that distributes homemade blankets and clothes to children in need. To devote more time to the organization, Dee left her job as a guidance counselor, and began speaking to churches and schools around the country, asking for their help.
A speech last fall at Dee’s alma mater, Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary High School in Pottsville, Pa. (pop. 15,549), inspired students and faculty alike. “She spoke so strongly about the reactions of those who received blankets,” says teacher Sister Paula Gallant, “and that someone they didn’t even know cared enough to put in the time, effort and energy.”
Under the direction of Gallant and fellow teacher Carol Boyer, a knitting club was revived, and a blanket and yarn drive was held. The school of 200 students since has donated more than 50 blankets, while the knitting club continues to provide a steady stream of warm blankets for families in need.
Nativity junior Jacob Gogno, a member of the football team, was proud to join the knitting club. In addition to helping children, Jacob was attracted to Cover Me With Love because he saw it as a way to honor his late grandmother, Mary. “She did it—knitting and crocheting—and taught me to sew before she died,” says Jacob, who’s been working on a baby blanket. “She’d like the idea (of Cover Me With Love).”
Dee also has partnered with other Pennsylvania schools as well as schools in New York and Arizona to provide blankets.
Mary Doyle, a childhood friend of Dee’s, enlisted the help of her daughter’s Brownie Troop, which donated a dozen handmade fleece blankets. “They didn’t know how to knit or crochet, but they knew how to cut and tie,” says Doyle, of Naperville, Ill.
Since April 2006, when the organization gained nonprofit status, hundreds of blankets have been distributed through homeless shelters, hospitals and homes for teenage mothers in Pennsylvania, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Florida and Texas.
Blanca Narvaez, a young Pennsylvania mother, was overjoyed with the blanket her 3-year-old daughter, Lily, received. “I’m happy that someone is thinking of us,” Narvaez says. “Someone out there loves us.”
That’s exactly the message that Dee wants to send to recipients. As she always says when ending her speeches to fellow blanket makers: “On behalf of the kids that I won’t know and you’ll never know, I can only say thank you for taking the time and caring enough to cover them with love.”