Oct 27, 2023

Knit for Kids donors warm hearts as well as bodies

Phyllis Robertson thought she’d run out of people to knit for.

Then she read about World Vision's Knit for Kids program, which distributes warm, handmade items to families in need worldwide.

"I’d knit for my family all the time, but there's only so many blankets a person needs. When you use acrylic yarn, it's really plastic and it’ll last forever," Robertson explained.

A retired nurse who was in civilian service during the Vietnam War and worked at hospitals across the country, including the former St. Francis, Robertson learned to knit as a child, sitting quietly by her grandmother's fireplace.

"Back then, she didn't have a TV," recalled Robertson, a Mohawk area resident who now uses the television as background noise for her after-dinner knitting sessions.

After learning about Knit for Kids, she got patterns from the Christian humanitarian organization and started designing the 36-by-42-inch blankets, sending her first donations in 2013.

"It keeps my hands busy, but it's really about the children and providing them with a little comfort and warmth," Robertson said, explaining that while World Vision sends donations around the world, a recent publication from the nonprofit featured a New Castle family who received a gift of new furniture.

About two years ago, at the request of World Vision, Robertson expanded her repertoire to children's knit caps.

"They take less time," she noted. "You can accomplish quite a bit in an evening."

With the support of her church, Mount Jackson Presbyterian, and yarn gifted to her by family members or purchased at yard sales, Robertson estimates she's personally made about 150 items for World Vision over the past decade.

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Fellow church members have also taken up the knitting needles, and occasional crochet hooks.

"The project gives our church members a hands-on mission project that benefits needy kids. Rather than sending money, there is a direct person-to-person connection between the knitters and the recipients," explained Joanna Barr, chairperson of the mission committee at Mount Jackson Presbyterian. "Our knitters are gratified to know the blankets and hats they make give children worldwide warmth and protection."

And, it's a project even beginners can do.

A knitting instructor, Robertson enlisted her students’ help. Last month, she mailed a package to World Vision containing about a dozen caps and 20 blankets, many created by those attending the knitting classes she taught at the Mohawk Coffee House over the winter.

Judi Spears, manager of the coffee shop, noted she had a lot of interest in knitting classes — and the donations.

"It was perfect timing, God's timing," Spears said.

"I thought it would just be local church members, but we had people from Union, Neshannock, New Castle," Robertson said of the Wednesday afternoon sessions attended by about 10 regulars. "The goal was that everyone learns to knit, but we were also motivated by our love of children and thinking about them as we knitted."

Robertson plans to teach knitting classes at the shop known to locals as MoCo House again in the fall, after "giving these hands a break," but noted that donations are always welcome.

"There's a need, and it's an urgent need. World Vision says it needs 32,000 blankets, so we need help," Robertson said. "We’re just one small community working to help the world one blanket at a time."

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Renée Gendreau is a lifestyles reporter at the New Castle News. Email her at [email protected].

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