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home : arts & entertainment : arts & entertainment August 28, 2014

2/4/2014 1:07:00 PM
Outreach program blankets region with love
Volunteers Sue Meeker, Charlene Cash, and Marcy Kuhlman with the blanket and frog given to Katy Yoder. photo provided
+ click to enlarge
Volunteers Sue Meeker, Charlene Cash, and Marcy Kuhlman with the blanket and frog given to Katy Yoder. photo provided

By Sue Stafford

What started one year ago as a small kernel of a dream for Sisters Country resident Mary Tomjack has blossomed into a highly successful independent and self-regulated community outreach called Heartwarmers.

As the name implies, their initial mission is to cover the abuse and neglect of children and to offer hope to adults diagnosed and in treatment for cancer by making and donating fleece "cut-and-tie" blankets.

Once Mary shared her dream with friends, support grew quickly and two groups of volunteers began meeting twice monthly in Sisters and Bend. Presently almost 60 volunteers meet in Sisters at City Hall and at the Rosie Bareis Community Campus in Bend to make blankets that are donated to six non-profits working with children. These agencies include, but are not limited to: KIDS Center, Saving Grace, MountainStar Family Relief Nursery, Grandma's House, Pregnancy Resource Centers, and Healthy Start.

About 550 blankets have already been made and donated along with almost 200 handmade bears, knit baby sweaters and hats, fleece scarves, and soft fleece blocks for infants and toddlers. Nothing goes to waste; trimmings and scraps from the blankets are used for the scarves and blocks and the ties that go around the rolled up blankets.

Working with social service departments, Heartwarmers also donates blankets each month to newly diagnosed adult cancer patients at St. Charles Oncology and Infusion Centers, as well as Bend Memorial Clinic's Infusion Center. About 300 blankets have been donated to these facilities so far, and each is given with donated lotions, socks and handkerchiefs.

Two Aspen Lakes residents have recently started a new addition to the blankets for the cancer patients. Jane Krause is making fleece hats from leftover fleece, and Dee Thompson is decorating them with fleece flowers. Local resident Anita Kutella was the one to originally establish the relationship with St. Charles and oversees all the coordination and delivery of the blankets to the cancer centers.

A recent recipient of one of the adult blankets was Katy Yoder, development director for Sisters Folk Festival, who is currently undergoing chemotherapy at St. Charles. The volunteers created a lovely purple blanket and included along with it a soft huggable frog to cheer and comfort Katy.

Mary Tomjack's large garage looks like fleece central, with colorful bolts of fabric waiting to be transformed into items of comfort and support as well as finished product ready to be distributed. Mary is confident that by the end of this February, the month of hearts, residents of the Bend and Sisters communities will have been recipients of 1,000 blankets.

"We have been blessed with abundance in the outreach of covering children at risk and adults in cancer treatment with comfort, strength and courage," she said.

Blankets cost between $10-$12 to make, when fabric is purchased in bulk at lowest sale prices twice a year. Donations from the public, and initially from the volunteers themselves, have made those purchases possible. Both Jo-Ann Fabrics and Hancock Fabrics have been very supportive of the program, with Jo-Ann Fabrics employees even cutting some of the fleece to help with the preparation of the blankets.

An addition to the program, this past July handmade knitted bears began to be created by John, a 64-year-old Redmond resident who desires to remain anonymous. He hoop knits the pieces of the bears and fills them with soft stuffing. His mother, Joyce, who is in her 80s, assembles the pieces, attaches a fleece heart to the chest of each bear, and ties bows around their necks.

They estimate it takes five hours to create one bear from casting on the first stitches to tying the bow. Even though John has never seen the blankets, the bears complement the colors in the blankets, which are rolled up and tied to the backs of the bears for delivery to the children.

Another volunteer who makes her own special contribution is Connie Souther, who takes blankets that have been cut, and ties the fringe at home and while traveling in the car on trips. Tomjack and Sisters resident Dar Kelm construct the soft blocks from scraps to go to the birth to 3-year-olds at MountainStar. Most of the scarves are made by Sisters octogenarians Sam Manasse and LaVerne Sawyer to be distributed to the homeless to help keep them warm in the frigid weather.

Jean Thurber of Sisters volunteers additional time to act as the treasurer for Heartwarmers. Laurie Bretz of the Plainview area created and printed the special tag that goes on each blanket telling the recipient the blanket was "made for you with love by Heartwarmers - a blanket to warm your heart."

Smaller scraps are cut into heart shapes and bundled 12 to a bag as "business cards" that are shared with people who are asked to remember the 12 people these hearts represent who have been covered and comforted by a blanket or other item. The hearts can also be used to clean eyeglasses and screens or scented and put in a drawer as a sachet.

The group is always coming up with new ways to cover Central Oregon residents with love.

"In the future, we hope to provide blankets for children in local homeless shelters, at the Ronald McDonald House, and through the local police stations," Tomjack said. "We would also like to donate blankets to be used as lap coverings for the elderly. Our vision is to continue to encircle and cover those needing strength and comfort." She has also been in talks with Central Oregon Partnership for Youth and Family Action Network.

Tomjack will be making a presentation to the Sisters Kiwanis this Friday and is available to address other groups who would like to hear about the work of Heartwarmers.

For more information, to make a donation, or become a volunteer, contact Mary at or call 503-880-5832.

Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, February 4, 2014
Article comment by: Pat Laurent

I really enjoyed reading your article. I have made lots of baby blankets and adult blankets and have donated them to the poor. I just hope they go to people that really need them. I'm wondering just how you gathered all of the ladies that help you make and distribute the blankets. I think it would be fun to work together with others to help people in need. I would appreciate hearing back from someone who can give me ideas on how to get something like this going in my area. Thank you! Pat Laurent

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