Acutally, its under a year since we made our first deliveries and shipments to Ronald McDonald Houses – and we are really making progress. A year ago, the idea of starting a non-profit wasn’t even the goal, I was just looking for a way to turn my passion into purpose. It’s been an exciting year for sure. Those of you curious about our mission, who may not follow us on Facebook or have not seen our website, this post is for you. For those of you involved but I don’t see in person or on a regular basis, here’s our year in review.
It is true that who you spend time with will influence who you become. And my friends, Stephanie Frazier Grimm and Sierra Zschirnt who do such beautiful work every day making The Confetti Foundation a huge success, have not only inspired me but were the inspiration behind the work we do for Ronald McDonald House moms. Spending time with them over the past couple of winters packing birthday boxes that are shipped nationwide to children’s hospitals and having the honor of being their “birthday fairy” for Bristol-Meyers Squibb Children’s Hospital and St. Peter’s Hospital both in New Brunswick, NJ, brought to my attention not only how many children are spending their birthdays in the hospital but how many seriously ill children are spending so much of their lives fighting for their health. The reality of how many are losing that fight is heartbreaking. And what their parents are going through is unimaginable.
While returning home from Newport, Rhode Island in May of 2016, after spending a winter helping Stephanie and Sierra doing something so wonderfully rewarding, I did some thinking. Besides delivering Confetti Foundation birthday boxes to my local children’s hospitals, how else could I pitch in. As a knitter and crocheter, I know the generosity of the knit and crochet community. Being on Facebook, I’ve seen the community of support offered through the pages set up by families keeping followers updated on the status of their children’s health. Hundreds, sometimes thousands of strangers reaching out through Facebook offering good wishes, prayers, and donations, to support these families is beautiful. Total strangers supporting each other. Wouldn’t it be great to tap into these two communities and generate some support for parents going through the unthinkable. Mom to mom. The idea to send packages including handknitted and crocheted comfort/prayer shawls popped into my head. After a few weeks of thinking and some settling of nerves, I printed 150 totes bags funded by sales of shawls I weave under my small business name, Weaving Wellness, and kept my fingers crossed.
In June, I attended a local knitting group to see if anyone might be interested in helping. Pam MacKenzie, a well known knit/crochet blogger and writer for a local newspaper happened to be at the library that day. Pam is a very active member in the knit and crochet community and suggested I reach out to Lion Bran Yarn company who generously donated a beautiful box of Homespun Yarn to our cause. Pam also mentioned my project and need for shawls in one of her posts. I then had a member of that group donate 18 shawls she had made and decided this project was worth her gift. As a brand new start up, that shawl donation, the support of Lion Brand and Pam’s encouraging words were exactly what I needed as I had no idea how I was going to pull this off. Thank you Pam, not only for the support you gave me but for all the work you do in the knit and crochet community!
I knew I’d need to find a public place to collect shawls for New Brunswick, RMD House and where people could find out more about this mission. Reaching out to Carole Judt at the Washington Valley Library in Martinsville was the best decision I could have made. Both Carole and Jane Gandolfe have played a big part in generating support and raising awareness. My hope is to eventually be in the library on a regular basis, maybe even start a knit/crochet group specifically for our needs, so stay tuned. But for today, thank you Carole and Jane for being my voice when I can’t be there!!! Brainstorming with you has helped more than you’ll ever know.
We began in July, shipping our totes w/comfort gifts and shawls to Providence, Rhode Island, then started deliveries to New Brunswick, NJ. Providence had 14 rooms at the time and New Brunswick has only 6 rooms. Seemed like a manageable number, until Providence expanded and by September had 28 rooms! Thankfully, knitters and crocheters in New Jersey were pitching in. (THANK YOU stitchers at Warren Library, Bound Brook Library Loopers and Martinsville Library!!) Gaining momentum, I tackled a website. Knowing we needed local support for Providence, RMD House, I approached Michelle Brennan, owner of Knitting Needles in Newport. I’m so grateful Michelle agreed to set up a donation station for anyone looking to make shawls for Providence. Michelle will collect the shawls and they will be delivered to the Providence RMD House by our friends at The Confetti Foundation who throw monthly parties for the children at Hasbro Children’s Hospital.
Posting on Facebook was another necessary thing to do to raise awareness. I was thrilled when Carole Balikian, from the Denver, Colorado area and Linda Peninger, from the Grand Rapids, Michigan area offered to coordinate knitters and crocheters for their local RMD Houses! A million thanks to you ladies! If you follow us on Facebook, you know both of these ladies have done an amazing job getting their local knit and crochet community involved.
So with growing support, encouragement and another winter starting up in Newport, I asked Michelle at Knitting Needles, if I could lead a sweater workshop to raise awareness and funds for our now called “Stay Strong Tote Project”. It was a successful event where a shortened version our simple blanket sweater can be used again to make shrugs for RMD House moms. The shrugs comfort like shawls but effortlessly stay on. It dawned on me that it might be easier for busy moms to wear a shrug and not have to worry about keeping a shawl on, but both are still greatly appreciated. I met some fabulous ladies both in and out of the workshop. (Yes, you, Joanne Bellagamba! Thank you for your help and friendship!) And thanks – again – Michelle, for allowing me to spend time in your beautiful shop!
It was around this time that I decided we needed a blog. Another thing I knew nothing about. But it seemed like a good way to communicate with volunteers and people curious about what we are doing. Meetings in person would be impossible and expecting people to scroll through our history on Facebook seemed unrealistic. So to all of you reading, thanks for your patience as I learn. And a huge thank you to my daughter, Molly Langdon, for creating our Go-To All Knit Shrug pattern. You can print out the PDF found both on this blog or on our website: Weaving-Wellness.org. With US19 needles and appropriate yarn choice. Cast on about 75 stitches, knit till about 32″. Bind off. It is really that simple and anyone can Send a Hug through a Shrug! Prior blog posts share yarn suggestions and ideas.
Mid-winter, our supply of shawls was running low when Patty Reents of the prayer shawl ministry of Our Lady of Mt. Virgin in Middlesex, NJ, reached out and donated a huge bag of shawls for our moms. Its funny how throughout this journey, the greatest gifts have presented themselves to me exactly when I need them. Thank you Patty, not only for your continued support but for inviting me into your home and your ministry.
By the end of March , with growing support and confidence, the decision was made to file for 501(c)3 charity status. I was prepared for a long response time, but just ten days after sending the paperwork, we officially became the Stay Strong Tote Foundation, recognized by the federal government as a non-profit charitable organization. Our mission: Sending Hugs through Shrugs (& shawls)! And our new logo was created. Huge thanks to my daughter, Kate Engelhardt, for sharing her photoshop skills!
You never know who you are inspiring. Thank you Kait Lengyel for inspiring me. Last summer, while in Newport, looking for support for Providence, I got together with Kait, who I met at beautiful Trinity Church. When Kait and I got together, she never knew that the parable she shared with me keeps me going when this project seems overwhelming. I even wear a bracelet with a starfish for inspiration.
So thank you Kait! You made a difference that helped make a difference to the moms who receive our gifts. Again, we aren’t finding cures but hopefully, we create a few minutes of happy distraction and let some very worried moms know they are being thought of.
As individuals there isn’t much we can do to change what these families are going through. But as a community, we are reaching out and sending a little love and support to as many moms as we can – which to date is 150! Our entire first print run of Stay Strong Tote bags. I truly hope when these worried moms wrap themselves in our shrugs they feel our hugs, and our love. I’m so happy to share with you that we have printed another 150 totes, this time with our official Stay Strong Tote Foundation logo on them.
When I visit knit/crochet groups to raise awareness and speak of the work we are doing, I always get asked about who the “we” are. I explain the “we” is every person who has donated an item through our Amazon wishlist or through our paypal account and all of the knitters and crocheters who have donated shrugs and shawls to a RMD House mom. There is no such thing as a small donation. No matter how you’ve pitched in, you will always be included in our community of support. So thank you to everyone for helping us deliver 150 Stay Strong Tote bags in 10 months! – hopefully you’ll continue to contribute to the next 150 we are preparing for.