Linus van Pelt knew the subtle comfort and break from reality his security blanket provided him. The national organization named for the character is certain Linus — consistently portrayed in the popular Peanuts comic strips and cartoons carting around his wavy blue companion — was on to something.
“A security blanket given to a seriously ill or traumatized child is like a warm hug when he needs it most,” explains Lani Fisk, leader of the Southeast Valley chapter of Project Linus, a national organization dedicated to “providing security through blankets” for sick or hospitalized children. “We hope we can bring a ray of sunshine into what may be a very cloudy day for them.”
In the case of the East Valley-based chapter Fisk works with, that’s 10,000 rays of sunshine, in just three short years. Since 2009, the chapter’s scores of volunteers have been collecting, constructing and donating blankets to various hospitals and organizations throughout the Valley, including the American Red Cross, Banner Cardon’s Children’s Medical Center and Mercy Gilbert Medical Center.
In the winter of 1995 in Denver, Karen Loucks Rinedollar read a Christmas-themed article about how a child felt comfort through her blanket while undergoing chemotherapy at Denver’s Rocky Mountain Children’s Cancer Center. Rinedollar decided to start a group that provides homemade security blankets to the center. That group would be come Project Linus.
There are a total of nine Project Linus chapters in Arizona, and close to 400 chapters throughout the country. More than four million blankets had been donated nationwide, and the Southeast Valley chapter headed by Fisk recently reached its 10,000-blanket milestone.
Fisk, an Arizona native, said she had recently moved back to her home state when she got the opportunity to work with the Southeast Valley chapter. When the 7.0 magnitude earthquake struck Haiti in early 2010, Fisk contacted the local Southeast Valley group to see if she could help the affected children. When it came to her knowledge that the current leader was unable to continue the chapter’s work, Fisk took over the chapter, she said.
The local chapter has helped children near and far, including in Afghanistan, Haiti and Japan.
“Many times when we have the available blankets to do so, and the call comes from (the national organization) we pitch in to send mass shipments of blankets to disaster areas,” Fisk said.
Most of the materials to make these blankets are donated by local businesses, as well as some generous individuals.
After a blanket has been crocheted, knitted or quilted, it is dropped off at one of the chapter’s drop off sites or picked up by a volunteer.
“Each blanket is then checked to see that it passes Project Linus standards,” Fisk said.
Before distribution each blanket is sewed on a label that says ‘Made with tender loving care for Project Linus.’
‘Blanketeers’ are not only individuals at home with an itch to help out. Fisk notes that Girl Scout troops, boys working on their Eage Scouts badge, senior citizen centers, and several Valley schools have donated blankets to the cause.
The chapter holds a quarterly blanket making day that is open to anyone interested in participating.
“Our volunteers are precious to me. They are the ones who make all of this possible. They are the ones who labor long into the night, and spend their little excess funds to see that a child they will most likely never meet receives the comfort only a blanket can give. They are the heroes of this story.”
Fisk said the chapter invites the public to volunteer at its next blanket making day Aug. 25 in Gilbert from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints building at 1005 North Voyager Drive.
Those interested in volunteering can donate blankets, materials or time.
For more information about volunteering and the Phoenix/Southeast Valley chapter visit www.linusblankets.org.
• Caitlin, a senior studying public relations and journalism at Northern Arizona University, is an intern for the East Valley Tribune. Contact her at (480) 898-6514 or firstname.lastname@example.org