A Great Yarn: Volunteers Knit A Comforting Tradition With Annual Knit-A-Thon

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: Benefits , Chatham , People , Housing and homelessness , Community events

Mary and Ron Weishaar, owners of A Great Yarn in Chatham, celebrate the completion of their 2020 Knit-A-Thon on May 3 with their annual yarn bombing of the shop on Route 28. Kat Szmit Photo

CHATHAM – Each year for the past five years on the first sunny day in May, ideally a Monday, the folks at A Great Yarn hang knitted blankets in vibrant hues and intricate patterns from the sides of the building, but it’s not just a colorful treat for passersby. The annual “yarn bomb” celebrates another successful year of donating the handmade treasures to people facing homelessness.

The yarn bombing began in 2016 when the first call for knitters went out. Mary and Ron Weishaar partnered with the Housing Assistance Corporation with a plan to make blankets for families and individuals facing homelessness. That first year A Great Yarn donated 29 blankets to people in need.

Fast-forward five years, and the 2020 Knit-A-Thon resulted in 229 beautiful blankets.

“It’s been a remarkable build,” said Ron. “Every year we’ll get a dozen or so new groups. They tell us, ‘We heard about what you do, how can we help?’ It just grows and grows.”

To ensure that as many knitters of any skill can participate, the Weishaars don’t ask people to knit an entire blanket, but instead what’s called a panel, or a long strip that looks like a wide scarf.

“We don’t ask people to make a whole blanket. That’s an awful lot of work,” said Ron. “We ask people to knit a panel, one foot by six feet. We take four of those panels, sew them together, and now you’ve got a blanket. This way anyone can participate. Even the most basic beginner knitter can knit a scarf.”

Neither Ron nor his wife were sure what might happen with their numbers given the stay-at-home advisory due to the pandemic, but they were pleasantly surprised.

“We get panels sent to us from everywhere,” Ron said. “Last year we got panels sent to us from 10 different states. It feels nice on the one hand, but we’re just the catalyst. A lot of people are just so untethered because of the pandemic. They spend time wondering, ‘What the heck am I going to do?’ Then they get a grip and start making panels. We’ve got 350 people out there that are making these panels. It’s nice thinking there are that many people that care and want to do something.”

When the panels come in and the blankets have been stitched together by more volunteers, Ron and Mary keep their eye on the weather for that first week in May, hoping the first Monday will bring sunshine and low wind as that’s their traditional yarn bomb day, the day they hang their newest creations from the shop in tribute to all the knitters.

“The fun part is that when we declare an end to the Knit-A-Thon, we take and yarn bomb the outside of the shop, trying to cover every single space with panels,” Ron said. “We get blankets and panels that come in from some of the most expert knitters on the planet, and we get panels that come in from people who’ve never picked up a knitting needle in their lives, and they all look cool when they’re stitched together. Every one of them has got a story.”

Ron said that once a woman brought in a panel with a hole in it roughly the size of a quarter. Undaunted, she knitted a small heart and covered the hole.

“We had a woman last year from Connecticut that had never knitted in her life but wanted to do something to help, so she went on YouTube and taught herself to knit and spent three months knitting one panel,” Ron said. “With a few other panels it made a wonderful blanket.”

Both Mary and Ron said the response has been truly uplifting, and they love knowing that the recipients get to keep the blankets when they move into affordable housing.

“We just get the nicest notes from people when we drop off their blankets,” Ron said. “You get the most heartwarming stories from them. When they come into the shelter, they’re in bad shape. They’re desperate. When they get a handmade blanket, it helps them feel less alone. It feels very good to know that people are really being helped by the blankets.”