“Peanuts” creator Charles Schulz is gone, but at least one of his comic characters will stay busy.
Linus, the world's most famous security-blanket hugger, is working with thousands of volunteers across the country in a program named in his honor.
Project Linus, founded in December 1995, has distributed more than 160,000 handmade blankets and quilts to children and young people who are seriously ill or traumatized.
What started out for Karen Loucks as a personal project to make security blankets for 100 children in the Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center in Denver quickly attracted attention and became Project Linus. From that first group, the volunteer organization has grown to more than 350 chapters across the country, and in Canada and Mexico.
Their homemade blankets in child-friendly colors have brightened the lives and the outlook of children in many hospitals, cancer centers and shelters.
Blankets have gone to Hopi and Navajo Indian reservations. They've reached children in a Catholic AIDS orphanage in South Africa, victims of earthquakes in Turkey and floods in Honduras, and youngsters in Kosovo. Blankets given to Kazakhstan orphans were the first item they ever owned.
Volunteers attend no regular monthly meetings or pay dues, but Project Linus keeps growing and thriving because of the “incredible generosity of people willing to open up their hearts and reach out,” said founder Loucks.
Quilting groups often attract extra members who pitch in with the project, which has no age restrictions. An 81-year-old woman in Brooklyn, N.Y., has made 37 blankets. Sister Amadeus and Sister Maurita, retired Sisters of St. Joseph in Concordia, Kan., make blankets regularly. An eighth-grade home economics class in Illinois made 255. Brownie troops donate too.
“The people who get attracted to Project Linus tend to be quality people with huge hearts who really care about children,” Loucks told the Register.
Felicia Copeland and Cathy Tringhese are prime examples. Copeland, who attends St. Peter's Cathedral in Belleville, Ill., organized a chapter in 1997. She wrote to all 129 parishes in the Belleville Diocese to promote Project Linus, then contacted other Christian churches.
To date, this chapter has knitted, crocheted and quilted more than 1,700 blankets. Copeland delivers them regularly to several hospitals such as St. John's Mercy Medical Center and Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital in St. Louis and to a shelter like Our Little Haven, for babies through age 5 who are abandoned, HIV-positive or drug-addicted.
“We relate as grandmothers to these kids, as if they were our own,” Copeland said.
The nondenominational Project Linus attracts Catholics like Tringhese, who formed the Southern Connecticut chapter. Every Monday, a core group of
24 from different parishes meets at Holy Name of Jesus Church in Stratford, Conn., to make, label and distribute blankets to hospitals including Yale-New Haven Hospital children's units, and organizations such as Paul Newman's Hole in the Wall Gang Camp for children with cancer and serious blood diseases, and Connecticut Burn Camp. Last year, they delivered 2,000.
“I feel it's my mission now,” said Tringhese. “We provide the children with a bit of comfort in a difficult situation.”
People from several area parishes and churches work together with her. Many sew blankets at home. In local convalescent homes, seniors again use their knitting and crocheting skills. “The blankets multiply like loaves and fishes,” said Tringhese.
And they bring the same feelings of comfort and security to the children who receive them as Linus' blanket brings to the world-famous cartoon character.
Rebecca Charleton, child-life manager at Cardinal Glennon Children's Hospital, said that blankets they get monthly have a big impact on the children, their families and the nurses too.
“Every time they come back into the hospital, that's the blanket they bring with them,” she said. “It has great significance for them.”
Donna Beerman, child-life therapist at St. John's Mercy Medical Center, let a sad 3-year-old with a bone disease pick out a cowboy-themed blanket. From that moment, he wouldn't let go of it.
For Big Kids Too
Older teens also find comfort. In Parker, Colo., 18-year-old athlete Reiford King, seriously injured in an auto accident, found a colorful blanket on his bed.
“I thought this was really awesome that people took time out of their day to do this,” he said. He always keeps it on his bed. “I think it speeded up the process of getting better,” King added.
Blankets brought comfort to some Columbine students, according to Loucks, a Mormon. She brought two dozen to a Mormon church used for some counseling sessions, and “every one of the kids went over and picked up a blanket and wrapped themselves in it. The transformation was amazing … the kids calmed down.”
The project has had another kind of ripple effect.
“The camaraderie we've developed with all the churches is the most worthwhile, besides helping the children,” said Copeland in Belleville. “It's the most beautiful ecumenical thing we could have gotten involved with.”
What did Charles Schulz think of Project Linus? “He has been very pleased with Project Linus,” an aide told the Register before the cartoonist's death Feb. 12. “He's received several blankets (himself) … since he's been in chemotheraphy.”
Joseph Pronechen is based in Trumbull, Connecticut.