Homeless Benefit From Annual Knit-A-Thon

By: Debra Lawless


Knitter Susan O'Leary is busy creating blankets out of panels created by local knitters for this year's knit-a-thon, which benefits the Homeless Assistance Corporation and is sponsored by A Great Yarn in Chatham. DEBRA LAWLESS PHOTO



A homeless woman was so touched that she cried when she was given one of the beautiful blankets knit by volunteers during A Great Yarn’s knit-a-thon last year.

“People have been just blown away,” says Laura Reckford, director of community relations for the non-profit Housing Assistance Corporation on Cape Cod (HAC) in Hyannis. Speaking of the blankets, she says, “they’re beautiful. They have this wonderful aura of love around them. People are very moved.”

Today (Thursday, Feb. 1) the third annual knit-a-thon will begin. It runs through April 30. During the first year about 100 knitters participated, knitting 29 blankets. Last year “things really took off,” according to Ron Weishaar, who, with his wife Mary, owns A Great Yarn at 894 Main St. in Chatham. Last year over 250 knitters joined in the effort, knitting 155 blankets.

Knitters can also sign up sponsors as they would for a walk-a-thon. In the first year cash contributions totaled $1,500, and last year they rose to totaled $6,500, according to Anne Van Vleck, HAC’s chief development officer. Due to the lack of affordable housing on Cape Cod, HAC runs four shelters where homeless families live for an average of six months. For these families, the blankets represent “some of those comforts of home,” she says. A typical client might be a single mom with kids—and HAC gives a blanket to each member of the family. The blankets are also put into the “welcome home” baskets that families receive when they move into a new home, making the blankets their first housewarming gift.

“Our goal for 2018 is to push the results even higher and to knit 200 blankets and raise $7,500 to help the homeless of Cape Cod,” Weishaar says. One hundred percent of the money raised goes to help the homeless.

Susan O’Leary moved to Chatham from Washington state last August. She has been knitting for at least 55 years, she says, and when she first arrived in Chatham and was waiting for her shipped belongings to arrive, she stopped into A Great Yarn to pick up some knitting supplies. That began her involvement with the knit-a-thon. Even before the knit-a-thon kicked off this year, panels arrived at the store for at least two dozen blankets. O’Leary has been busy spreading the panels out on her kitchen table and stitching them together with an invisible stitch. Four panels make a blanket.

“If you’ve got the time and the skills, why not?” she says. “They’re fun.” The blankets remind her of the blankets her grandmother knit using leftover yarn.

“Knitters are all about not wasting yarn, so the blanket I made last year was entirely made from small balls of yarn given to me by a friend who moved down south,” says Lynda Linnell of Brewster. A nurse, Linnell ran a volunteer clinic for homeless women and children for 15 years. “The knit-a-thon provides a way to share my God-given gift of knitting, keeping me involved in a very memorable time.”

As for the knitting, here’s how it works: Using washable worsted-weight yarn, cast 50 stitches onto size eight needles. Knit in the simple garter stitch (that's just knitting, no purling) until you reach six feet in length. You can be creative and use different colors of yarn. Your finished panel should measure about one-by-six feet. (If it’s a bit off, don’t worry, Weishaar says.) In addition, if you find numerous sponsors to contribute $1 or $2 per foot, you can also donate cash along with the six-foot stretch of knitting.

Advanced knitters who might find garter stitch boring have added cables or even American flags to their panels.

Diane Kapoor, a visitor to Harwich who lives the rest of the time in Monroe, Conn., has been an “avid knitter” for about 40 years. She began shopping at A Great Yarn back when it opened in March 2015.

“The idea of the knit-a-thon caught my eye because I could do it at my own pace, use yarn from my stash and help someone keep warm,” she says. “Also, the aspect of raising money for a good cause was a bonus. I knitted two panels last year and now that I know this project is an annual event, I plan on it. That means using my stash and maybe incorporating a new stitch pattern or two.”

Each April Kapoor makes a pilgrimage to Provincetown with her children and grandson, picking up panels at the store on a Thursday, sewing them together over the weekend, and dropping them back off on Monday.

“The knit-a-thon provides everyone a moment to share their gift with those who are in need of warmth of body and spirit,” Linnell says. “I believe volunteerism should be part of everyone’s being.”

To participate, phone A Great Yarn at 508-348-5605 or email info@agreatyarn.com. The store will provide promotional materials, fliers and sponsor sign-up sheets. If you don't knit, you can sponsor a knitter. The store is open Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. and sponsors Saturday Morning Knit-Arounds, winter classes and other events. For more information visit agreatyarn.com.