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Happiness Is a Warm Blanket

Project Linus sews security for area children,
one blanket at a time.

By Jeff Berg

Warmth, security, safety, love. Standard features required by all models of human beings.

The "Eastside Crafters" donate a large number of
crocheted blankets to Project Linus.

Since the term "security blanket" came into use sometime after said item first appeared in a Peanuts comic strip on June 1, 1954, the Linus character and his blanket have become synonymous with the notion of sanctuary.

The belief in temporary security and safety can attach to any number of things besides blankets, of course. Children often gravitate to stuffed animals. For teens these days, security seems to come from a cell phone. But I can't imagine how anyone can feel that talking on the phone while in a restroom is anything other than a symbol of the depth of the emptiness of his or her core being.

Give me a blanket anytime.

And when we lose that security? What happens? Who, for example, is available to offer a child something that will bring comfort during a tragedy or a radical change in routine?

Project Linus, for one.

Locally, Dayle Sillerud is the coordinator for the Las Cruces Chapter of Project Linus, one of three chapters in the state (the others being in Albuquerque and Cloudcroft). Project Linus, which began in 1995, now has 400 chapters nationally, with chapters in all 50 states. The project has donated more than 2 million blankets, mostly to children, from newborn to age 18, around the country.

The group's Web site (www.projectlinus.org) describes the founding of Linus simply. It took place "on Christmas Eve, 1995, when an article titled 'Joy to the World' appeared in Parade magazine. It was written by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist, Eddie Adams. Part of the article featured a petite, downy-haired child. She had been going through intensive chemotherapy and stated that her security blanket helped her get through the treatments.

"After reading the article, Karen Loucks decided to provide homemade security blankets to Denver's Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center, and Project Linus was born."

The national organization doesn't interfere much with the local groups, but mostly exists as a support system that offers advice along with Web site and publishing assistance. It also provides liability insurance and takes care of the licensing of the Linus name.

In Las Cruces, Sillerud says, "The chapter was started by Linden Ranels in 1999, and she still sews." That is, Ranels remains one of the "blanketeers" who make the blankets for donation.

Sillerud became the chapter coordinator earlier this year; as all things seem to be for the group, the transition was well planned and organized. She recalls, "Around Christmas Linden asked me to consider becoming the coordinator, since she felt she was ready to step down. In addition to making blankets, I had been helping her out with blanket deliveries — in retrospect, I think she was training and testing me. I filled out the paperwork with Project Linus headquarters about the first of February. I think Linden's recommendation, since she is in such good standing with the national leadership, was all that was needed for me to be accepted. They have some requirements that include a smoke-free home, dedicated space in the home for storage of blankets, willingness to make a hefty time commitment, etc. We scheduled the transfer of leadership for March 1, 2007."

Sillerud's duties as coordinator include inspecting the blankets before they go to their new owners, sewing labels on them to indicate that the piece is from Project Linus, and deciding where they go.

"We have 200-plus members on our mailing list, but some members are through church groups," she says. "Some of the individual blanketeers do as many as 100 a year, while others will just work as a group."

One does not need to be a member, per se, of Project Linus to contribute. Freelancers are welcome, and are encouraged to donate their handicraft to Project Linus to help ensure that it gets a good home.

A visit to the Quilting Dragon on Solano Drive in Las Cruces, where the very informal group meets, finds a number of blanketeers hard at work on various individual projects. As a cottage charity, there are no membership dues or fees involved.

"We do quilts, crocheted afghans, and fleece blankets," says Sillerud. "Almost all of the blankets go to kids, and we get quite the variety."

Blankets should always be '"new, handmade and washable," and are affixed with the Project Linus logo. Each blanket that is made by a blanketeer is an original design by the maker, and can be made of scraps of most any material, much of which is donated. Sometimes the blankets get titles or names, but that can be burdensome at times, Sillerud says, just because of the quantity of work that is produced.

"We do it sometimes," she says as she points out pictures of some of the quilts in the chapter scrapbook. Some of the titles include "Cat Nap," "Happy Trails" and "Cute as a Button." On the next page of the scrapbook are the four ribbons that the Las Cruces chapter won at this year's Southern New Mexico State Fair.

Around the room, eight different projects are going on, some perhaps a bit gender-centric, others not. One quilter digs through some of the 20 or so plastic storage bins stuffed with material. Another holds up her work-in-progress for comment ("cute," "sweet," "oh" and "ah" are the favorite descriptors). Others work diligently on sewing machines that are placed atop long tables in a work area of the Quilting Dragon.

The group is mostly women, but some men do sew. Other men do "grunt" work such as heavy lifting and also help deliver the completed blankets to the various agencies that use them in Las Cruces.

"We have one man who is a regular crotchetier, another who quilts," says Sillerud.

A blanketeers pipes up to add, "My husband is not a Linus person, but he has lifted a lot of sewing machines."

Sometimes these fabric artists will donate their own material, and church groups that are involved will usually supply their own fabric and supplies. That is not to say that this industrious group couldn't use your help or support (see below for details).

Since its inception, the Las Cruces chapter has sewn and distributed some 6,000 blankets. Any number of agencies benefit from the program, but typically it is law enforcement or health agencies that have the most need. Children who are victims of crime or who are at a crime scene, such as a home with domestic-abuse issues or an auto accident, are often the recipients of a blanket or quilt. Sillerud notes that police officers sometimes keep a blanket in their squad car for the "need of warmth" for a traumatized child.

Other blankets go to area hospitals, the Gospel Rescue Mission, the state Children, Youth & Families Department (CYFD), Safe House and the La Casa women's shelter. At times the Red Cross will also receive quilts, but usually only when there is a major catastrophe, such as the 2006 floods that swept part of Hatch off the map.

"Sometimes it's a family thing, Sillerud says. "The parents are just as grateful as the kids. That's why it's important that we pick the right places for the blankets to go to."

There was even one special case recently that didn't involve a human recipient. Although Sillerud and the other blanketeers were initially a bit uncomfortable about the blanket's new "owner," the story has turned out to be a nice way for another type of crime "victim" to receive some needed nurturing:

In early autumn, it seems, two brainless men clipped off the ears of a puppy with scissors for "cosmetic" reasons. They were arrested and tossed in jail. The pup was entrusted to the capable hands of county animal-control officers (see the August 2007 Desert Exposure) and later ended up being taken in by the Victim Assistance Unit. There, "Rusty," as the pooch is now called, made his way to a storage cabinet that contained some of the stockpiled blankets from Project Linus. Rusty selected one that matched his discriminating tastes, and, as Victim Assistance Program Coordinator Daphne O'Hair says, "It has become a sense of security and comfort for him." The pooch "sensed the amazing love and comfort that you stitch into every blanket," O'Hair told the blanketeers.

Sillerud concedes that at first all the volunteer sewers hoped that Rusty hadn't selected one of the blankets they'd made. But after a short time, it all made sense and the blanket makers are proud that Rusty is doing so well now.

Other local groups help out with Project Linus, including the Munson Senior Center Quilters, who meet three times a week, and the Quilters' Guild of Silver City. Recently, Nancy Miller and Ida Chaffee of the Silver City group held a challenge fundraiser, where the people who want to vote for a quilt that is part of the competition "do so with dollars instead of their voice," Sillerud says. She laughs and adds that way you can "put your money where your mouth is!"

Sally Morge has worked at the Quilting Dragon for four years and is known by the blanketeers as their number-one support person at the store. Her take-charge attitude is invaluable for the store and the volunteers. She even organizes quilting retreats for a different group called the Canyon Quilters that sometimes embrace gentle debauchery such as drinking a glass of wine or playing a form of bingo that involves quilt pieces. "But we do get some serious quilting done during the retreat and at least one of them goes to Linus," Morge says.

Sillerud adds that Sally's husband, Keith, is also a quilter. "Keith will take quilt tops that blanketeers have completed and finish them into quilts," she says. "That is a big plus for us!"

Other supporters include the Unravel Yarn Shop in downtown Las Cruces and the Junior League, which comes through with donations.

Today at the Quilting Dragon, eight women are working on their projects, all in various degrees of completeness. Sillerud guesses that it takes her five to 10 hours to finish a six-foot-square quilt. The way that Lorraine "Rainy" Revling is working, it looks like her project will be done in a matter of minutes.

Revling is a lifelong seamstress, who first learned to sew on a sewing machine that had been a gift to her mother in 1919. She still has that machine, although, like Revling, it is retired, and now is used as more of a home decoration (the machine, that is). "I made my first dress in the third grade, and I still have it," Revling says proudly. The other women within earshot are surprised to hear this and some of the other tidbits that Revling, who has been making quilts since 1980 (also the year she moved to Las Cruces) shares.

Revling hardly looks up from her project as she speaks briefly about her life in the Midwest, where she is from, working with her church, and what she describes as "one-shot things" she undertakes. "I like to do things when I feel I can do it," she explains.

She still drives back to the Midwest by herself every summer, Revling mentions. Although she likes Las Cruces — "it's warm and there aren't any hurricanes either" — Revling still has a lot of family to visit in Minnesota. She adds another piece to her blanket, the pattern indicating that this one will probably go to a boy, and says about her long drive, "My kids know it won't do them any good to complain."

Her attitude is that her road trip is important to her, and that she'll get there when she gets there. "It depends on if there is a quilt show that I want to go out of the way to see," she explains matter-of-factly.

Interspersed with bits of talk like this, the work continues and blankets begin to take shape. By now, some of the women are winding down for the day, preparing to go home or to do errands and the like.

Sillerud adds one last thought about Project Linus. "It's a simple idea," she says, "but it works."

To get involved with Project Linus either as a "blanketeer" or by offering donations of needed materials such as quilting fabric (child-friendly colors or designs), batting and the like or more "administrative" supplies such as postage stamps or large grocery bags, contact Dayle Sillerud in Las Cruces at 532-4602 or by email at sillerud@comcast.net. You can also visit the organization's Web site at www.projectlinus.org to make a cash donation.

 

Senior writer Jeff Berg still finds comfort in an old quilted blanket
given to him by his grandmother 35 or so years ago.

 

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