Students volunteer to help Superstorm Sandy victims have a cozy holiday
JANESVILLE They came in army camouflage, psychedelic tie-dye and bright green with fluttering little Tinker Bell characters.
Some were small enough for babies. Others were adult sized. They featured footballs, puzzle pieces, even sock monkeys.
They were nearly a dozen and half plush fleece blankets, all created by the hands of Janesville and Evansville elementary school students.
All the blankets are bound for people in areas of New York and New Jersey still dealing with the aftermath of Superstorm Sandy. The blanket making was part of a holiday volunteer service project Thursday afternoon at Janesville's Roosevelt Elementary School.
Knitting Fever, a yarn and knitting supplier on Long Island, put out a call for items it wanted to ship to people devastated in the wake of Sandy, said retired Evansville schools art teacher Jean Loesch, the event's organizer.
The massive storm plowed through the eastern seaboard during the last week of October, causing tremendous flood and storm damage and crippling parts of the East Coast.
Knitting Fever's goal is to get as many semitrailer-truck loads of socks, hats, mittens, gloves and other warm items as it can to people in areas slammed by Sandy, Loesch said.
It is offering free shipping for whatever items volunteers can send.
Loesch, who once owned a knitting store, caught wind of the effort through knitting friends on social media and a local knitting store last week.
Loesch said that she and her friend Sue Shotliff, an art teacher at Roosevelt, began raising funds immediately after the storm to throw together an impromptu blanket-making session.
It only took a few days to get dozens of students interested, Shotliff said.
"The media has covered this disaster so much," she said. "The students all are really aware of what people there are facing."
Some of the 60 students from Roosevelt and the Evansville School District who were working at making the blankets had a keen sense of the storm's devastation.
Roosevelt fourth-grader Alley Franks, 9, remembered being in Janesville in 2008 after floodwaters from the Rock River surged through Janesville. But she said the Janesville flood pales in comparison to images she has seen of Sandy's damage.
"It wasn't ever like that in Janesville," Franks said. "People on roofs, their boardwalks and everything there all gone. You still can't even use cars there."
Franks said she couldn't imagine what it would be like to lose everything.
"I think they're going to be very happy with these blankets," Franks said. "It's small but something."
The students brought in cash and kits for the blankets, Loesch said. Organizers stood in line to get good deals on fleece fabric.
The students will have no way of knowing who ends up with the blankets, but the recipients will at least know where they came from. Some students were making sure of that.
Roosevelt fourth-grader Jazlyn Houwers, 9, was with students in another room at the school hand-coloring cards that go along with the blankets.
Houwers' card was illustrated with a picture of a girl snuggled up in a blanket.
"Hope this blanket keeps you warm," it read. "I'm sorry that Sandy hit. Merry Christmas! Love, Janesville."
The project is being expanded to other schools in Janesville School District over the next couple of weeks, Loesch said. It is exceeding initial hopes.
"We started out hoping for two blankets. Now, we're closer to 25," Loesch said.
She said she hopes the project will continue next year. In the future, she would like to see some local people in need get blankets made by students.
"It's the start of a good thing, we hope," she said.