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Project Linus seeks to comfort tykes in trouble

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, but one picture has been worth more than two million blankets since the formation of Project Linus in 1995.

With the theme "providing security through blankets," Illinois-based Project Linus was inspired by a Pulitzer prize photo of a small child clinging to a blanket to get through her chemotherapy treatments.

Since then Project Linus, named for the blanket-clinging Peanuts cartoon character, has distributed nearly 2.3 million handmade blankets to children who are seriously ill or traumatized. The blankets are provided to places such as hospitals, social agencies, fire departments, that attend to children facing traumatic or difficult situations.

There are more than 400 Project Linus chapters in the U.S. The newest and 13th chapter in Washington state is based in South Grant County that serves an area extending to the Yakima Valley. Since the valley does not have its own chapter, a Project Linus group in the Tri-Cities was serving this area.

"Until recently the Tri-City chapter was providing blankets to the Yakima Valley," said Barbara Strobel Walters of Desert Aire, coordinator for the South Grant County chapter. "But our chapter has taken over because we're closer geographically."

Before the chapter became officially recognized just over a month ago, Walters said volunteers-Project Linus calls them "blanketeers"-had prepared more than 100 blankets in anticipation of the need.

She said 55 of those have already been distributed in the past month or so to areas all over South Grant County and the Yakima Valley, including Sunnyside Community Hospital.

Walters said she'd like to see the chapter begin distributing blankets to hospitals in Yakima, but she said a much larger inventory needs to be on hand.

"You can't hardly think of a place that wouldn't be a good recipient," notes Walters. "The whole Yakima Valley has been so underserved. It's something that really needs to be done."

She added that all the blankets made within a geographic region, like the Yakima Valley, will stay in that area.

The organization has a website, www.projectlinus.org, which provides some blanket and quilt designs. Blanketeers, says Walters, range in age from senior citizens to 10-year-olds working within church and school groups. "Fleece blankets are easy to make," Walters noted. "They can be tied or fringed and made in about an hour and a half.

"There are all kinds of ways to make blankets," she continued. "The criteria is that they have to be new and kid friendly."

Walters said she will develop drop-off sites in the Yakima Valley for blanketeers to deposit their blanket cargo. Until then, those with completed blankets can contact Walters directly and she will arrange pick-up.

"If they call me I'll find a way to pick them up," she said.

Financial grants for the non-profit group are also sought.

"What we want to do is to be able to provide volunteers with materials," Walters said. "People get tapped out after awhile from buying supplies."

To offer blankets, sewing material or financial assistance for Project Linus's efforts in the Yakima Valley, contact Walters at 509-832-2331 or send an e-mail to bwalters@smwireless.net.

It's a lot of work to blanket portions of a two-county area, but Walters said it's the feedback she hears from people who distribute them that keeps her going.

She recalled a family with four little children who showed up recently at a clinic in Mattawa. "The family arrived with nothing," Walters said. "We delivered the blankets (tied up in a ribbon) and the family happened to be there. A little boy five or six years old said 'Look mommy, the lady gave me a blanket and it's not even Christmas!'"

Recalling another recent example in which a single mother received a quilt for her newborn child and called it the best thing that had ever happened to her, Walters added, "Those are the things that make you want to do what you do."

As with the cartoon Linus, sometimes all it takes is a blanket to make a difference.

Just ask Walters.

"Every once in a while we get a story and you just can't believe how that little bit you did has made that much difference."

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