Local Project Linus group has handed out thousands of hugs

Local Project Linus group has handed out thousands of hugs

pramati@macon.comMay 9, 2014 

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    The Macon chapter of Project Linus, which provides handmade blankets and quilts to children across the midstate who are ill or who have suffered a loss, meets the second Saturday of every month from 9 a.m.-noon at Lawrence Drive Baptist Church, 5774 School Road.
    In September, after sewing sessions in the morning, members of the group will offer lessons in sewing and quilting in the afternoons.
    The nonprofit group accepts donations of sewing materials, including cotton fabrics, thread and sewing machines.
    For more information, email bibbblankets@aol.com or visit www.facebook.com/pages/Project-Linus-Bibb-County-Georgia-Chapter.

Though members of Macon’s Project Linus have been sewing blankets and quilts for a decade, they have their own name for the product of their labors.

Hugs.

Joan Anderson, who leads the local chapter of the national organization, said each blanket and quilt the organization makes, whether it’s for a child who is ailing or has suffered a tragedy or for a soldier wounded overseas, the net effect is the same: The blanket is something to wrap around the person with the hope of bringing comfort, like a hug.

“We’ll go wherever a child needs a hug,” said Anderson, 66, the retired director of the Middle Georgia Library System. “Whether the child has lost a dog or their home, whether they have a broken arm or a broken heart, we’ll give them a hug.”

There are more than 400 chapters of Project Linus across the country. The organization is named for the “Peanuts” comic strip character Linus Van Pelt, who is famous for never letting go of his blue security blanket. Anderson said Charles Schultz, the creator of “Peanuts,” gave the organization permission to use the character’s name and likeness before he died.

The local Project Linus celebrates its 10th anniversary Saturday. Over that period, Anderson said the chapter -- which has more than 300 members -- has donated more than 40,000 blankets and quilts to a variety of organizations across the midstate, including those in Bibb, Jones, Monroe, Dodge, Crawford and Twiggs counties.

Because the blankets are primarily for children, many of the recipients include the Salvation Army, the pediatric units at The Medical Center of Central Georgia, Coliseum Health System hospitals, the Ronald McDonald House and Robins Air Force Base. In addition, the organization has added hospice grief camps in three counties and Crest Lawn Funeral Home to its list of recipients.

Nearly every blanket seems to come with its own story. During one meeting of the chapter, for example, there was a need for blankets for five foster children, with each child having his or her own interest.

As members sorted through the stack of blankets, they gradually found blankets for the first four children -- one that was yellow, a second that was sports-themed, a third with horses and a fourth containing the image of the cartoon character SpongeBob SquarePants.

But the fifth child wanted a blanket with the picture of the TV character Hannah Montana.

After going through hundreds of blankets, the club couldn’t find one. But then, a member showed up late to the meeting with a single blanket she had made -- by sheer chance, a Hannah Montana blanket.

Elsie Dixon, 90, who has been with the organization for nine years, estimates she’s made 2,800 blankets and quilts over that time. She calls the people who sew and crochet “blanketeers.” She said one of her favorite moments was being able to sew a blanket for a soldier who had been deployed overseas and was heading back.

Bea Petrie, 69, said she found out about Project Linus three years ago while at the church she and Anderson attend.

“Before I knew it, I was in,” she said with a chuckle.

The organization has grown through word of mouth. Anderson said the group regularly gets 30 to 50 members at each monthly meeting. It’s completely nonprofit. There are no dues or officers, and the organization will take whatever donations it gets, provided they meet Project Linus’ strict set of standards.

Anderson said each blanket must be hand made, not bought from a store. They are inspected for everything from pet hairs to odors to pins. Each blanket is given a tag with Linus’ picture on it to certify that it meets those standards.

Additionally, those making the blankets and quilts can only use materials like cotton, which are easy to clean. Other materials, such as polyester or wool, aren’t acceptable because they are more difficult to clean and are less comfortable for the child.

There are occasional exceptions. The group made camouflage blankets for wounded soldiers out of materials from discarded military uniforms. Because the material is so heavy, Anderson said, it’s a lot more difficult to sew.

Project Linus has had a big impact on the community, said Bonnie Hopkins, executive director of the Ronald McDonald House in Macon.

“For the last seven, eight, nine years, they’ve provided us blankets,” Hopkins said. “They’re a great thing to wrap someone up in. ... It’s comforting for families to have something warm and fuzzy that they can grab on to.

“I’m amazed at how engaged they can be,” she said. “It’s a unique community project that has come together for whatever they are needed.”

To contact writer Phillip Ramati, call 744-4334.

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