Karen Loucks and her team of volunteers couldnt put their arms around all the needy children in the world, so theyve embraced thousands in the warmth of handmade security blanketsstitching them together in hopes a cozy cuddle might ease the fears of sick or suffering boys and girls.
Its like playing Santa Claus year-round, says Loucks, of Parker, Colo., (pop. 11,802).
The idea came to her in 1995 after a disappointing fund-raiser shed helped organize for the Rocky Mountain Childrens Cancer Center.
I had a sour taste in my mouth, Loucks says. So she began searching for a more direct way to help such children and read a magazine article featuring a youngster who had clung to her blanket to get through harrowing chemotherapy treatments.
Loucks knew immediately what to do.
She combined her newfound hobby of crocheting with her desire to help young cancer victims and founded Project Linusa nonprofit organization named for the Peanuts cartoon character who considers his security blanket a necessity.
Its funny how life puts events in order, she says.
Loucks then crocheted several sample blankets and showed them to a doctor at the cancer center in Denver. When he approved, she approached a journalist friend who mentioned her fledgling enterprise in his newspaper column. Volunteers responded generously. By March 1996, each of the 100 children undergoing treatment at the cancer center had received a handmade blanket.
We had no idea wed have this phenomenal response, Loucks says. After appearing on a Los Angeles television program, she received a deluge of phone calls from prospective volunteers.
Loucks credits friend Betsy Elliott with handling the burgeoning administrative duties of coordinating the more than 400 chapters of volunteers around the world. In the last few years, more than 260,000 blanketsknitted, crocheted, and quiltedhave been given to hospitals, homeless shelters, tornado and plane crash victims, womens shelters, police stations, and others.
Project Linus also has presented blankets to childrens camps such as Paul Newmans Hole-in-the-Wall Gang and to special projects like Dr. Laura Schlessingers My Stuff Bags for homeless children. Blankets become the property of the children who receive them.
We love Project Linus, says Susanna Mooney, a social worker at St. Marys Hospital Medical Center in Madison, Wis. Blankets are distributed there by hospital staff to protect the privacy of children and are given to patients ranging in age from infants to teenagers. Tags on the blankets give the first name of the volunteer who made the item, which helps the children feel especially loved.
The blankets symbolize warmth and caring and make the hospital experience seem more human, Mooney says.
Loucks often takes skeins of yarn to a friend in a nursing home, who in turn makes blankets. Another friend taught teenagers at her church how to knit, and those teens have since made many blankets for the project.
Mormon Church members inspired Project Linus annual Make-A-Blanket Day in 1996 when church members produced 225 quilts in one day to celebrate the churchs 150th anniversary.
Christine Popenhagen, a Project Linus coordinator in Madison, Wis., says she has more than 100 volunteers who are making blankets. One woman has made well over 200 blankets, Popenhagen says.
Loucks, a self-described turbo-crocheter, averages a blanket a month.
Shell continue to supervise 200 volunteers in her area while devoting time to a new cause. Shes training to become a firefighter.