Knit one, serve one
One day, late last winter, the Rev. Judy Campbell stopped by the food pantry to drop off a donation.
"There was a parent there," she says, "with a child who had no hat, no mittens - obviously not warmly dressed warmly enough for the weather."
Ms. Campbell sent that person to the Thrift Shop with a note and got them some gloves and mittens. "It was near the end of winter," she says, "so I couldn't do much more about it then." That encounter planted the seed of an idea that grew through the spring and summer.
Ms. Campbell is a Unitarian Universalist Minister. "When I left the Unitarian Universalist Society of Martha's Vineyard I didn't leave the island," she says, "but I still want to do ministry. I facilitate the Island clergy group, and I still do weddings and funerals. I also have my writing, which is very intentionally part of my ministry.
"I thought, 'I can start a knitting ministry.' There's the prayer shawl ministry, baby hat ministries, knitting for preemies, etc. There are all sorts of ministries that people have created around handicrafts. This was more practical in my mind, here and now, addressing an immediate need."
Knitting for charity has a long history. In WWI, the Red Cross launched a campaign to have wool articles knit for the armed forces in Europe. In recent years, groups around the country have taken up the idea, knitting for people in need both locally and overseas.
The Martha's Vineyard Knitting for Charity group had its first meeting at Featherstone Center for the Arts last October. Although its founding was spiritually inspired, it has no denominational ties. The mission is simply to make hats, mittens, and scarves and get them to local people who need them, through the Island Food Pantry.
Every Thursday afternoon, from 3 to 5, a group meets to knit. "It started slowly, but it's growing," says Rev. Campbell.
This past Thursday, about a half-dozen women gathered to knit. They arrived with projects in hand, and they swapped knitting tips as they worked. The first point of discussion was Susan Tonry's ruffled caps. "In each set, you crochet two," Ms. Tonry explained. "Anything will ruffle."
Next, they talked about various techniques for making pompoms and tassels, and the possibility of making hats out of old, felted wool sweaters.
The members of the group come from a wide range of places and backgrounds, but most of them have been knitting and doing other crafts for a long time.
Ms. Tonry, a regular member of the group, used to have Calico Sue's Country Studio, at Five Corners. She now works caning chairs, painting, and repairing furniture. Coincidentally, both Ms. Tonry and Carole Early, another regular member of the group, had grandmothers who designed and made hats.
Else Membreno's knitting also came from family tradition. She was born in Indonesia, when it was still a Dutch colony, and began knitting when she was a child there. Her family moved to Holland when she was 14, and she came to New York in 1961 to work as a physician. She retired to the Vineyard in 1999.
Peggy McGrath, who has just begun knitting, is a volunteer at the Food Pantry. She arrived with an almost completed scarf. Rev. Campbell helped her finish it off, and gets her started on her second project, a hat.
While the others are chattering, Glena Barkin knitted quietly, counting her stitches and checking the pattern she's working from. Rev. Campbell has several basic patterns from various sources, which she shares with the group. One of them is "Bev's Basic Cozy Cap," available at bevscountrycottage.com/bevsbasichat.html.
Knitting for Charity's connection to the Food Pantry is also a topic of conversation. For now, the knit goods are kept in a drawer and offered to people who might need them, but some think it would be better to leave them out on a table. The Food Pantry provides other grocery items in addition to food. Toothpaste, travel-size shampoo and hand lotion are often needed.
Ms. Early mentions Friends of the Island Food Pantry, a group organized by Jack Street from the Unitarian Universalist Society. The Friends of the Food Pantry go to all of the island markets with lists of what the food pantry most needs each week, so that shoppers can pick up an extra item or two and have it delivered to the Food Pantry right away. They work through the summer, gathering food for Helping Hands Distribution, also known as the Summer Food Bank.
"I wanted this to be green, and affordable," says Rev. Campbell. "I put out a call for people to knit with me, but also for half-finished products, extra yarn, knitting needles, and materials. I wanted to do it for nothing and to give away the finished products for nothing. So far, we've given 5 or 6 shopping bags full of hats and other items. We need more people to knit, and more yarn, especially in colors that men would wear."
"It's not how you get there, it's that you get there," says Rev. Campbell. "My object is to get hats and mittens to people who need them.
The group will be meeting at Featherstone through March 4. They may continue through the spring and even summer, if there's enough interest, to stockpile warm knitwear for next winter.
For more information, to help, or to give donations, contact Rev. Judy Campbell at revdocmom@comcast. net.