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Nov 30

Caring Hands Knitting Group works throughout the year to prepare for cold weather

Posted on November 30, 2022 at 2:27 PM by Becky Burnside

By David Markham

Volunteering can take many forms, but for the dedicated members of the Caring Hands Knitting Group, it means making hundreds of hats throughout the year to distribute for free to those in need. This year, two local girl scout groups got involved by helping to sort and distribute the hats.

Caring Hands is an ongoing program of the Johnson County Park and Recreation District’s 50 Plus Department which for many years has met weekly in Roeland Park - currently at Roeland Park City Hall while construction is going on at their usual meeting place in the Roeland Park Community Center.

Between 12 and 15 people are currently enrolled in the program, but at any given meeting, there are usually eight to ten knitters. All the current participants are women, but that hasn’t always been the case, and anyone is welcome to join in. 

Over the past year ending in October, the group made and donated an estimated 1,520 hats for charity in the community. Some of the hats were given out throughout the year, but in late October, the knitters enlisted help to  distribute about 1,000 hats they had on hand. A woman stands by a cart full of thread for knitting

“I’ve been coming to the Roeland Park Community Center since 1996,” said longtime knitter Maggie Hein of Leawood. “I’ve done many things here. I used to work for the pantry, and when that left, I kind of moved over here to knitting.”

She added that she has always volunteered, beginning at age seven.

“Volunteering is so necessary, and there are so many ways different that you can volunteer,” Hein told about a dozen Girl Scouts in second grade Troop 3936 and fifth grade Troop 2436 during a meeting in late October. “It doesn’t matter what your age is. I remember when I was eight or nine - my mother sent me across the street to help a lady do some housework because she said she was older and couldn’t bend down. That’s service work and I was helping her. You look like a great group and you have a lot of work ahead of you, but it’s kind of fun when you know you’re doing something good, so I hope you enjoy this and you’ll do it again.”

“I was in Girl Scouts from Brownies through senior high and it taught me that you’re supposed to give back,” added fellow knitter Elaine Howell, also of Leawood. “So this is a way that I can give back and it doesn’t require a lot of me, and it doesn’t require a lot of space at the house. My husband and I both retired last year, and  I was looking for something to do that was fun. I saw it in “The Best Times” and I thought ‘that looks like fun,’ so I came up and they taught me how to knit, and I knitted with the circular needles at first, and then they taught me how to use a loom knitter, and it goes much faster with that.”

Howell said she just started with the knitting group in February 2022 and has completed about 55 hats since then. 

“I can usually get a hat done, depending on what else I’m doing, in about four to five hours, so it takes a little bit of time. But as I’m sitting there doing it, I’m thinking ‘somebody this winter is going to have a warm head because I knitted a hat.’ That’s such a good warm feeling, which is what community service is all about.”

Knowing how to knit is not a requirement for getting involved with the caring hands group. 

“One or two times a month, we have people come in who have never crocheted or knitted, and someone in the group will basically adopt them and sit next to them while they learn how to knit and learn how to crotchet,” Howell said.  “We all sit around and help each other, and if anyone has a problem, somebody will usually jump in and help them out.”

Materials, including needles, are entirely provided through donations, and this accounts for the wide variety of colors and types of yarn in the resulting hats. 

“Someone can walk I with totally empty hands and walk out with yarn and everything they need,” Howell said. 

In past years, the task of distributing hats was coordinated by members who are no longer with the knitting group. Roeland Park 50 Plus Coordinator Lisa Eagle explained how this year’s intergenerational effort to deliver the hats to those in need came about.

Two Girl Scouts help with sorting knitted hats“We try to get the hats out when it starts to get cold,” she said. “The Girl Scouts reached out to us to use a room for their meetings recently, and through our agreement with the city of Roeland Park, we do allow for free use of the rooms for certain groups and scouting groups are one of them,” she said. “I just kind of thought ‘well, this could be an opportunity for a service project,’ and I emailed the scout leader and said ‘hey, I’ve got a service project idea - we’ve got a group of older adult volunteers who might make for a great and intergenerational opportunity. The girl scouts could  hear from some of the women who have donated their time through the year. They could meet each other and then the girls could learn how service projects work by distributing the hats out to the community.’”

 “I wanted the girls to participate in the project because Girl Scouts is about participating in the community as well as learning new skills,” said Scout Leader Emily Dunn, whose daughter is in Troop 3936. “We are all new Girl Scouts; I was one when I was in elementary school and decided to volunteer as a leader this year so that my youngest would get to enjoy it like I did. I hope to instill in them that new experiences are a part of life, and instead of being scared, we can learn and enjoy doing new things.”

There are a variety of ways people can get involved with the Caring Hands Knitters. For those who are interested in making hats, the Caring Hands Knitting Group is a drop-in group which meets weekly from 1 to 3 p.m. Tuesdays at the Roeland Park City Hall, 4600 W. 151st Street, Roeland Park. Participation is free and there’s no obligation to attend weekly. Preregistration is not required, but you can see the program listing online here or call the number below for more information. Individuals or groups interested in receiving hats or donating yarn (any kind) or other knitting supplies can contact Eagle at 913-826-3161.

“We’re always accepting yarn, we’re always looking for new knitters, and if anybody is homebound and wants to knit at home, we can get them the patterns for how we knit our hats, and we can arrange picking up the hats whenever they’re ready,” Eagle said. 

She told a story from a recent conversation which illustrated just how meaningful the hats can be. “I was chatting with a participant in a Tai Chi class we offer,” Eagle said. “She told me she volunteers twice a week at the food pantry on 87th and Antioch, and that some of the people who come to the food pantry are living under bridges and in cars. As we are talking, I told her about the knitting group and asked if she wanted hats to give out with the food - I happened to have a bag of 50 hats with me in my car that I gave her right away. She was so grateful, and we both felt our discussion was meant to be to make this exchange.”