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Catonsville library volunteers donate handmade blankets for sick, traumatized children through Project Linus

Lori and her son, Max, 5, of Catonsville, complete a football themed fleece fringed blanket for Project Linus Saturday afternoon.
Lori and her son, Max, 5, of Catonsville, complete a football themed fleece fringed blanket for Project Linus Saturday afternoon.(Nicole Munchel for the Baltimore/Baltimore Sun Media Group)

Catonsville resident Lori remembers her son Sam receiving a Project Linus blanket when he was a patient at University of Maryland Medical Center three years ago.

“It meant just that somebody cared and knew what we were going through,” said the Catonsville resident, who declined to share her last name. “They didn’t even have to know us.”

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Her son was gifted the handmade blue blanket patterned with owls, moons and stars as part of the national Project Linus initiative, which launched in 1995 to provide handmade blankets for ill and traumatized children.

“It is a hug — basically they can wrap it around themselves, they can hug that blanket and it’s very comforting,” said Patty Gregory, president of Project Linus National, which oversees chapters in every state, including 10 in Maryland.

Lori and her sons, Sam and Max, joined nearly 20 other volunteers on Feb. 15, the nonprofit’s National Make-a-Blanket Day, to make no-sew fleece blankets from donated materials at the Catonsville Library branch.

“We’re here because this project affected us, and we wanted to come back and help,” Lori said.

As volunteers cut and tied the fringes of different fleece patterns together — one pink with unicorns, another adorned with smiling bumblebees — librarian Jessica Woods, who organized the event to benefit the Baltimore County Linus Club chapter, announced each finished blanket to applause, as it was added to the pile that will be distributed to local hospitals like Kennedy Krieger Community Rehabilitation Center and nonprofits like the Ronald McDonald House, said chapter coordinator Fay Husted.

Woods began donating on her own knitted blankets to Project Linus about five years ago before organizing volunteers at Baltimore County library branches, she said.

“I really like knitting, it’s my way to de-stress,” Woods said in between guiding volunteers. “But if I’m doing something positive for someone in need, there was a purpose behind me doing that.”

“I think it’s a very tangible way to help people,” said Catonsville resident Tayloe McKenna as she tied off another fleece fringe.

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The Baltimore County chapter last year delivered 2,035 blankets knitted, crocheted, quilted or more often tied with single-layer fleece and flannel by volunteers in county libraries, schools and nursing homes. Those blankets were distributed to abuse centers, family crisis centers, pregnancy centers and to children whose parents have died in hospice.

The blankets that are made — 25 on Feb. 15 — are transported to the chapter’s meeting room in Aston Presbyterian Church in Cockeysville, where the eight members meet the first Monday of each month to stitch a “Project Linus” label into the fabric, Husted said.

Other than fundraising $500 annually for the Linus Project national chapter, delivering the blankets is the club’s main initiative.

From there, Husted, 73, bags and hauls the blankets to 20 local groups that request them. She doesn’t see the children who receive the blankets, she said, and doesn’t often interact with the volunteers who donate them.

“It’s really a wonderful organization, and it’s amazing how many blankets I get that are anonymous,” Husted said, adding that the steady stream of donations keeps her working around 20 hours a week on deliveries. “People say, ‘No, I don’t need any recognition.'”

The project began when its founder, Karen Loucks, read in a magazine about a child who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993 and who carried a blanket with her to chemotherapy treatments, Gregory said.

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“Karen thought, ‘Well, I can do that,’” and began donating her crocheted blankets to Denver’s Rocky Mountain Children’s Cancer Center, launching a grassroots initiative that has continued to grow yearly with an estimated 80,000 volunteers today, Gregory added.

The nonprofit is expected to deliver its 8 millionth blanket in April this year, Gregory said. Make-a-Blanket Days, an annual event started by volunteers to amass blankets quickly for those who suffered through the Columbine High School mass shooting in 1999, typically contribute between 75,000 and 100,000 new blankets across the U.S.

Most of the Catonsville library volunteers were first-time blanket makers looking for an indoor weekend activity.

“It’s something different for my son to come out and do,” said Tiffany Ahmad about her 10-year-old, Maxwell Ahmad. “I just wanted him to … know about this stuff that’s meaningful; we’ll learn more about what the project means because me and him will just talk more about it.”

Michelle Kreiner, a Catonsville resident who teaches pre-K at Howard Community College, took a break from finishing paperwork at home after seeing the event listing on Facebook.

“I thought, I’ll take a break, come do something to help someone else,” she said.

For Erica Palmisano, spokeswoman for the county library system, taking her children, 10-year-old Juliet and 8-year-old Alexander, was part of their New Year’s resolution to do something once a month for someone else, she said.

“I think it’s important to show young kids to do something for someone else,” she said.

Woods hopes to continue reserving the space for annual Make-a-Blanket days in the future, and is considering hosting another Project Linus event in the warmer months. Those who wish to donate privately can reach Husted by email at fahusted@yahoo.com.

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