It began in 1995 with one little girl who was suffering from cancer.
Central to her fight against the disease was a beloved “blankie” she took for comfort to over two years-worth of grueling hospital visits and intensive chemo sessions. Her story inspired the creation of “Project Linus” – named for the blanket-loving character in Charles Shultz’ Peanuts® cartoon.
The not-for-profit project engages volunteers in creating quilts and blankets for children in need due to illness, a traumatic accident, domestic violence, homelessness or other difficult life experiences. The project started with just one volunteer. Its ranks now include an estimated 80,000 “blanketeers” in over 300 chapters across all 50 states.
Project Linus came to the Hudson Valley shortly after the organization’s founding, and to Rockland County in 1997. Several years after the Rockland chapter launched, a local newspaper ad seeking volunteers caught the eye of retired Ramapo school district elementary teacher Ruth Wilson.
“I was newly retired after 30 years of teaching, looking for ways to give back to the community,” said Wilson. “My sons loved Peanuts® and Linus. So I took the opportunity to volunteer, and as part of the bargain I learned how to make quilts.”
Twenty years and hundreds of blankets later, Wilson is now the Rockland Coordinator for the Westchester-Rockland chapter. Wilson’s group includes over a dozen volunteers who produce approximately 1,200 blankets every year.
Wilson and her team deliver the blankets to child/family service organizations throughout the county. Regular recipients include the pediatric and neonatal intensive care units at Montefiore Nyack Hospital, the Nyack Center, the Center for Safety and Change in New City, Sunrise Day camp in Pearl River for children with cancer and their siblings, and the Visions Center on Blindness in Spring Valley which serves children with visual impairments and other disabilities. The group also delivers to food banks, mental health organizations, child care centers and educational programs on an as-needed basis.
“The blankets we make are exactly what a ‘security blanket’ should be,” said Wilson. “They’re colorful and fun. They give children some happiness, and a sense of safety, warmth and comfort – a big ‘hug’ they can rely on when they’re frightened, lonely or in pain.”
The blankets often provide comfort far beyond the immediate need and extend to the child’s family – treasured reminders of care received, memories of a lost child, or a triumph over adversity.
“As just one example, I know a young woman who started life as a preemie and is now a high school senior. She still has her Project Linus blanket,” said Wilson.
Project Linus maintains high standards. All blankets must be new, handcrafted, made in smoke-free homes, use machine-washable fabrics containing no wool, and meet specifications for dimensions and overall size.
The Rockland chapter meets once a month to collect, sort and label their wares for distribution to child service organizations. The ‘show and tell’ part of the meeting is a particular pleasure for the group – a chance to display their work, and share the inspiration behind their designs, which often includes stories about their families and friends.
Show-and-tell is recorded and posted on YouTube and Facebook as a way of sharing with other chapters and volunteers looking for new designs and ideas.
After more than 15 years of holding meetings in craft stores and other temporary locations, the Rockland team now makes their home in one of the event spaces at Hotel Nyack, thanks to generous support from the Hotel.
“We’re pleased to host Project Linus at Hotel Nyack,” said Chloe Petretti, the hotel’s Director of Sales & Marketing. “It’s great way for us to connect with the community. Community involvement is an important part of our mission as a business and as local citizens.”
Matt Tobin, the hotel’s new general manager, sees the hotel growing as a civic leader.
“Project Linus is just one example of the local programs and events we continue to support under our new brand as a Hyatt ‘Joie de Vivre’ property” said Tobin. “There’s a lot more to come.”
“We’ve been meeting at the hotel for nearly a year,” added Wilson. “We couldn’t be more grateful for the warm welcome they give us. The staff are great. The meeting room is spotless, and large enough so we were able maintain distance when pandemic conditions required it.”
During the pandemic shut-down, the situation was of course completely different. The group didn’t meet in-person at all for almost two years. Despite many challenges, the blanketeers managed to keep the production line going with Zoom™ meetings – and with help and encouragement from Project Linus veteran Adele Shapiro, Coordinator for the joint Westchester-Rockland Chapter.
Deliveries to Montefiore Nyack Hospital and other child service organizations continued without pause.
Montefiore Nyack is a powerful partner, serving about 180,000 patients per year — more than a third of Rockland County’s total population. The hospital is also the county’s largest employer, with a staff of over 2,500. On average, about 25% of the Rockland blankets (about 300 annually) go to the hospital.
“The Project Linus blankets are – heart and soul – a part of what Montefiore Nyack Hospital does to provide life-affirming patient experiences for children and families,” said Tracie McLee, Executive Director, Montefiore Nyack Foundation. “The pandemic strained everyone’s resources, but Project Linus kept up their vital work, as they have done for the hospital, the Center for Safety and Change and other local child service organizations for many years.”
“During the pandemic, contactless drop-offs, coupled with Zoom events hosted by Above and Beyond Creative Sewing in Nanuet, kept the wheels in motion,” said Shapiro. “We didn’t miss a beat. The Rockland chapter continued production, and even upped their output during the most challenging months of the pandemic.
Wilson says conditions during the pandemic actually played a role in increasing production. With time on their hands and nowhere to go, new volunteers who hadn’t sewn for years went back to it, and some who had never sewn before took up a new skill.
“My front porch became a collection point – piled high with beautiful quilts like a busy craft store,” said Wilson. “Team members also met for drop-offs in empty parking lots around Rockland. Thankfully local law enforcement didn’t suspect us of doing shady parking lot ‘deals’!”
It’s no surprise that Project Linus has a long history of stepping up in emergencies, such as the suffering of children and families in the aftermath of 9/11, wars, and tragedies like Sandy Hook and more recently Uvalde, Texas. For sudden needs of high magnitude, Project Linus national headquarters mobilizes emergency deliveries through local chapters. Most recently, the Westchester-Rockland chapter has contributed blankets for shipments to Ukraine.
Project Linus also supports the children and families of veterans through the federally-based Tragedy Assistance for Survivors (TAPS) program. Coordinated by Project Linus headquarters, the Westchester-Rockland chapter makes frequent contributions to TAPS.
“For people in need, whether due to difficult times for individuals or families, or as a result of large-scale events, you cook, you knit, you sew,” said Wilson. “For our blanketeers, it’s a deeply gratifying experience. We know that every blanket reaches a child – a child who will receive comfort and love at a point in their life when they most need it.”
Project Linus Westchester-Rockland welcomes volunteers and sponsors, as well as donations of fabric, and yarn, as well as gift cards used by the group to purchase materials. The Rockland Chapter currently benefits from generous support provided by Above and Beyond Creative Sewing, Hotel Nyack, Orange & Rockland utilities, United Way and Walmart.