“In 30 years or so, I’ve never had a reaction to a project that’s been this robust,” said Pat LaMarche of the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project.
Knitters and crocheters from about 10 states are providing hand-knitted and crocheted blankets to be displayed at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, Carlisle, as dusk descends on Dec. 21. The display commemorates National Homeless Person’s Memorial Day, stirringly held on the longest night of the year, remembering those who have died while experiencing homelessness.
“It’s the night we remember because, if you live on the street, chances are you are going to die on the street,” LaMarche said.
It’s a hard life. Homeless individuals often die 30 years before their time, LaMarche said.
Some 250 blankets, zip-tied together, will provide a visual reminder of homelessness. On the project’s Facebook page, artists collaborate, announce yarn sales and display their creations. Some include twin- and queen-sized blankets with intricate, delicate lacy patterns. Others have colorful granny squares, and still others feature a hobnail texture.
“This [knitting and crocheting] is a love language,” said LaMarche, whose Great Aunt Martha taught her to crochet when she was 7 years old. “And so that seems to be what this massive blanket has turned into.”
One particularly beautiful piece is a jewel-toned blanket with 18 multicolored circles. The circles contain lovely coordinating, pointed flowers. For creator JP Shaw, a love of crocheting harmonizes with making this blanket.
“It’s a perfect match because that is my hobby, what I do in my free time rather than scrolling Facebook,” she said. “I make something beautiful that someone will appreciate.”
It replaces plenty of scrolling, as each circle takes a couple of hours to complete.
Amy Neurohr crocheted three blankets for the project.
“When you make an afghan for someone, it’s kind of a personal gift,” she said. “It’s not like you went out and bought a blanket at Walmart. It’s a lot more personal.”
Neurohr heads up an effort to collect knitted and crocheted squares from people, sewing them together to form a covering. She created a colorful blanket, which she hopes will make a child happy.
A child isn’t the stereotypical un-housed person, but 2018-19 Pennsylvania public school statistics show that about 31,822 students in the commonwealth experience homelessness during the year.
“I have a vision of a kid getting it,” she said. “I’m just really happy with the bright colors and, you know, wrapping up in it.”
Ways to Help
This event will shine a light—on the darkest night of the year—on the crisis of homelessness, as well as organizations that provide services to the unhoused.
Local agencies will be at the church to inform people what they can do to assist in the work of ending homelessness. An area of the church property will hold a tent camp to give folks a glimpse into the lives of the unhoused. Kings Gap General Store will provide its famous cheese soup, and other types, and Project SHARE and Gilded Door Pantry will provide bread products.
“Wow, hot soup on the street in the cold, staring at this blanket that will [be there until] the next morning, when we disassemble the blanket, will actually be going to someone who is cold and in need,” LaMarche said. “You know, this is a really poignant thing to stand and witness.”
She pointed out that the Christmas season serves as the perfect time to open ourselves up to the suffering of others.
“Dec. 21 is right in the absolute belly of the time when people are saying to their children and their grandchildren, ‘You need to learn more,’” LaMarche said.
Sponsored by the Charles Bruce Foundation, the Homeless Memorial Blanket Project provides not only that opportunity, but a means to take action.
Those with challenges themselves look for ways to help. LaMarche shared a story of an elderly woman living in a long-term care facility who wanted to participate in the project but couldn’t get out to purchase yarn. LaMarche put the word out to the “yarn community” and, poof, there was yarn.
“The woman who dropped the yarn off, her husband died last year,” LaMarche said. “So, she brought the other woman, who she doesn’t know, her husband’s favorite color.”
Thus far, this senior knitter has fashioned four blankets. Another senior, Neurohr’s mother, who prefers to make hats to blankets, is crocheting hats with the goal of providing one for each blanket. They’ve nicknamed her the “Mad Hatter.”
In the end, local agencies will receive the blankets to distribute to those they serve.
“This is also a really big opportunity for people to invest a lot of love into this project,” LaMarche said.
That loves comes in the form of purchasing yarn, providing yarn to others, and using a hobby to offer literal and figurative warmth to people who can surely use it. It also allows the community to enjoy the art it creates and gather to learn about homelessness, all within the frame of acknowledging those who lost their lives while unhoused.
“It’s cool to think that these blankets are going to matter to somebody,” LaMarche said.
The Homeless Memorial Blanket will be displayed on Dec. 21, starting at dusk, at First Evangelical Lutheran Church, 21 S. Bedford St., Carlisle. To learn more about the project or to drop off a crocheted or knitted blanket, go to the project’s Facebook page or contact Pat LaMarche at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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