Project Linus: Giving the gift of warmth in more than just the physical sense

“When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'” — Fred Rogers

By Zak Lantz
Of The Spirit

REYNOLDSVILLE — With the warmer weather finally upon us and signs of spring and summer popping up daily, many folks are starting to do their spring cleaning, and a part of that process is often putting away some of the things that aren't used as much in the warmer months. One of these things that comes to mind is blankets.

But for some, especially children, blankets can be about much more than warmth. They can bring comfort and peace to those who possess them, which is where the term "security blanket" came from.

No mascot carries on the mission of the security blanket any better than Charles Schultz's beloved character Linus Van Pelt, who is never seen without his bright blue blanket.

In fact, Linus spoke quite wisely about his need for security in one particular strip from Jan. 17, 1963, where he said, "I guess I talk too much. My mom is mad at me... my grandma is mad at me. Yesterday, my grandma drank 32 cups of coffee. I shouldn't have said anything. I suggested that perhaps her drinking 32 cups of coffee was not unlike my need for a security blanket. She didn't like the comparison."

While food, water, shelter and oxygen are the recognized necessities for survival, there are many things that an individual needs to optimize his or her existence, and security in times of need is one of them.

Seeing the need and importance of providing children in this area with that security when things around them seem to be falling apart, Tania Getch wanted to do something to make a difference in their lives, so she took action.

Five years later, Getch is the project coordinator of the Clearfield/Jefferson Counties Chapter of Project Linus — a national organization dedicated to its two-fold mission: "First, to provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized, or otherwise in need through the gifts of new, handmade blankets and afghans, lovingly created by volunteer "blanketeers," and second, to provide a rewarding and fun opportunity for interested individuals in local communities for the benefit of children."

The idea for Project Linus came about on Christmas Eve of 1995 after an article called "Joy to the World," written by Eddie Adams, was published in Parade Magazine depicting a little girl named Laura who'd been diagnosed with leukemia in 1993. The article said that a special "blankie" had helped Laura get through more than two years of intensive chemotherapy, and after reading the article, Karen Loucks decided to provide homemade security blankets to the children in Denver's Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center.

Getch — a mother of three: Jacob, Andrew and Joelle — started her work with Project Linus 5 years ago, adding Jefferson County to the areas the project served.

"I was looking for a charity that I could be a part of to help children, and I happened to go to a MOPS (Mothers of Preschoolers) meeting and met the former chapter coordinator, Joanne Sconzo, who happened to be looking for someone to take it over. Joanne started Project Linus four years ago in the Clearfield County area. I have continued the project, and in the past five years have added Jefferson County to the areas we can serve."

Getch said that Project Linus accepts only new, handmade blankets, including quilts, tied comforters, fleece blankets, and crocheted or knitted afghans. But to best serve the security-based needs of the children who will receive the blankets, the organization can only accept new, handmade and washable blankets that come from a smoke-free environment.

By handmade or homemade, the project's website says, "we mean something that is not commercially manufactured or purchased. Of course, home sewing machines, knitting machines, etc. are fine. It has always been the mission of the project to donate only homemade blankets. Over and over, children express how touched they were that a stranger would take the time to make something for them. They really know the difference.
Purchased blankets are nice, but handmade blankets are from the heart."

Getch said that the fact that the blankets are handmade is one of the things that she loves most about the project.

Her favorite part of the ministry, though, is that "even if it is just a little, giving security to children in a scary time in their lives is so important."

"Project Linus is an organization that I hold very close to my heart. I am fortunate to have healthy children in a secure environment, and I want to bring joy to the children who don't have that."

Getch noted that a majority of the blankets in the area go to DuBois Regional Medical Center, Brookville Hospital and PA CARES for Kids, but that many others have been positively affected by the project, including children in families who have suffered losses from fires and other tragedies.

Getch said that local "blanketeers," as the project calls its volunteers, come in all forms — from Girl Scout troops to members of local senior centers, and many more.

First United Methodist Church in Reynoldsville holds a blanket-making meeting on the second Sunday of each month at 5 p.m., and Getch noted that Project Linus makes for great community service projects and senior projects for students.

In fact, Punxsutawney Area High School (PAHS) soon-to-be graduating senior Lauren Kachmar made serving Project Linus and its mission her senior project this year.

"I heard about the project through Tania," Kachmar said. "My family and I have always thought the senior project should be community-oriented. After talking to Tania, I felt that this would be the perfect senior project for me."

Starting from scratch, Kachmar organized a car wash, which was held at Advance Auto Parts in Punxsutawney, to raise money to purchase the materials for making blankets.

"Advance Auto Parts supplied everything I needed, including the location," she said. "Therefore, I had no expense in the car wash. My friends and family donated their time to help out at the car wash, and we raised $520, which I used to buy the fabric to make the blankets. Throughout the winter, my mom and I set aside Monday nights to work on the blankets. I also had my friends over to watch movies and make blankets, which was a big help in making the total of 27 blankets I was able to donate, along with a $150 check."

Kachmar said that her favorite part of the project was knowing her hard work was providing security for the children and "working with my friends and knowing that at least 27 different kids had a new handmade blanket that I made possible. It is kind of like sending each of them a hug from me."

The point of the senior project is to empower students to give of their time and of themselves and to dream big, and from what Kachmar said after completing the project, it is obvious that it hit home.

"I learned that it feels good to give back," she said. "With a little help from your friends, one little idea can turn into something bigger than you thought it would be."

Getch concluded by saying that, "If someone wants to help, they can donate blankets or make a monetary donation. There are blanket dropoffs at Joanne Fabrics in DuBois and at First United Methodist Church in Reynoldsville."

Nationwide, Project Linus has donated 4,463,213 blankets since 1998, and locally, Getch said that between her and Joanne, 3,243 blankets have been provided for local children.

"I am very proud to be a part of this wonderful organization, and I love to meet the 'blanketeers' and helpers along this journey," she said.