When the Panhandle Mad Hatters began three years ago, it started with five women knitting in their homes.
Their goal at the time was to provide warm hats for newborns at Kootenai Medical Center and Deaconess Medical Center. Three years later its mission and membership have grown by leaps and bounds.
“We now have about 70 members who live all over the United States,” said Beverly Browne, the coordinator and one of the founding members of the Mad Hatters. “It may be a relative or friend of someone in our group who hears of what we are doing and they want to help out, too.”
And it’s not only women who are knitting, some have taught their husbands the craft and they, too, have joined the cause.
No longer only serving the newborns in Spokane and Coeur d’Alene, the women and men are using their talent to help cancer patients in the community by knitting Afghan lap robes. In addition, this November they will partner with Court Appointed Special Advocates to ensure that all the children who go through Idaho’s 1st Judicial District not only have a safe, healthy, nurturing environment, but also the softness and ownership of an item made just for them.
Jeanne McDermott, a member of Mad Hatters, is spearheading the CASA project and says the Mad Hatters will be fulfilling an often forgotten need in the community.
“Children (served by CASA) are often leaving homes without much,” said McDermott. “And teenagers have often times been left out in the donation area. Their needs are often very different than those of the younger kids.”
The Mad Hatters will knit hats, mittens and scarves for as many as 30 teenagers and CASA Executive Director Judy Morbeck will distribute them.
Another member of the group, Marie Landstrom, leads the project for the cancer patients’ lap robes. She is on the auxiliary board at Kootenai Medical Center and volunteers at Kootenai Cancer Center one day a week. She said the chemotherapy treatments can often leave the patient feeling chilled. The nurses provide warmed blankets, but the warmth those provide only last so long. And besides, says Landstrom, the lap robes are a gift they can take home with them.
“A lot of the cancer patients here are alone and do not have family,” said Landstrom. “This is something so personal and they are so appreciative (of the gift).”
Each member of this group enjoys giving in a very special way, and each sees different needs in the community. For Betty Jensen helping premature babies who need all the warmth that a hat and booties can provide has become her passion.
“They (hats and booties) help a lot with keeping the baby’s temperature up,” Jensen said.
While Jensen says she enjoys all aspects of her knitting for the Mad Hatters, there is one project that touches her heart the most.
“I make onesies for Kootenai Medical Center for what I call the littlest angels,” Jensen said. “The ones that didn’t make it.”
She knits the onesies in several sizes, the smallest of which will fit in the palm of her hand.
Before the babies are brought to the parents, the nurses will dress them in the onesie that Jensen has knitted. It is often the only remembrance the parents have of their baby.
Jensen said parents would pack the onesie away without washing it to ensure they can keep the scent of their baby for as long as possible.
“So far I have not had to do many of the onesies. I’m thankful for that,” said Jensen.
In three years, the Mad Hatters have provided more than 7,000 hats to newborns at Kootenai Medical Center and Deaconess.
“We contribute 150 hats a month to each Kootenai Medical Center and Deaconess Medical Center,” Browne said.
But all of that takes money and yarn, something which the group needs. “The Elks Lodge graciously allows us to use the lodge for our gatherings every month, contributing to our path,” Browne said. And while there have been many other businesses who have contributed, the need still exists.
“Whatever people can donate would be so appreciated,” said McDermott.
The group recently received a heartfelt thank you note from grandparents Jeanne and Stan Wright thanking them for the hat their grandson, Wyatt Metzger, wore home from the hospital after his birth at Kootenai Medical Center. They were very touched by the gift of the hat and thanked the group for their time and thoughtfulness.
It is just one of many thank-you notes the Mad Hatters receive and lets them know they truly are making a difference.
“Things that come from your heart and hands are so important,” Browne said. “My heart knows this is what I should be doing.”