Nothing conveys comfort like a cozy blanket—even more when you know it’s been handmade with well wishes stitched, hooked or tied in.
That’s the philosophy of 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, quilt or knot blankets for children in need due to trauma, illness or other cause.
Project Linus has distributed nearly 9 million blankets since 1995. ERIE Blanketeers are committed to adding 50 to that total by year’s end 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 of yarn rolling.
Newly returned to Erie, Pennsylvania, and inspired by his community-minded fiancé to contribute in some way, Darren said he pondered: “What’s my thing? What really matters to me?”
Additional inspiration came through a friend’s adoption of a foster child and the realization that children in the foster system come to new homes with nothing to call their own, he said.
Stitching Into Action
Hoping to connect his 20-year crocheting hobby with an inspiring cause, Darren did some soul—and Google—searching. He found other needlework-related charities had rules around what yarns to use and other fussy details. Project Linus had “just three itty-bitty requirements,” he said. “No wool (because of allergies), donated items have to be new, and handmade—that’s it.”
A bonus for Darren, who joined ERIE in November and aspired 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 calling for volunteers to the Sales & Products division and worked out ERIE Service Corps requirements with ERIE’s Diversity & Community Development Department.
“I was pleasantly surprised when I learned just how open ERIE is to supporting a cause in whatever way you want to give,” Darren said.
Hooked on a Great Cause
About a month in, the effort has 40 volunteers and has completed 20 blankets toward their goal.
The West Virginia sales team crafted the latest addition to the total 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 taking it on as a project to provide 50 blankets,” Kam said. “After receiving the directions to the tied quilts, I thought it was something our branch sales team could do at our meeting.”
She cut the fleece and had the blanket laid out for tying to start the meeting. Many hands make light work.
Another case in point: In June, 11 ERIE Blanketeers, held a blanketeering session in the Thomas B. Hagen Building. They knitted, crocheted and tied fleece blankets.
The group also heard about the Project Linus mission—and got pointers on how to make the fleece blankets—from Joann Burkhardt, coordinator of the Northwestern Pennsylvania chapter, shown accepting the first ERIE blankets from Darren in the above photo. The chapter donated more than 4,000 blankets last year, all of which stay local.
By the end of the session, they completed eight blankets to provide comfort for children in need.
Darren’s pleased with the progress, but he’s also looking for more ideas to engage ERIE Blanketeers. “Hopefully, there’s something fun coming,” he said. “If anyone has ideas about how to get involved, or to get their team involved, I’d love to hear them!”
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