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Project Linus groups create quilts for children in need

Jan Sartain’s home gets pretty noisy when her four quilting companions arrive.

Every three weeks those who gather at Sartain’s home apply their passion for quilting to make gifts of comfort for children in need as part of Project Linus.

“Everybody lugs their own sewing machine in, sets it up and away we go,” said Sartain, 64, who started the group in 2008. “Sometimes we can hardly hear each other talk over the machines.”

Drawing inspiration from Linus, the “Peanuts” character who is never without his beloved blanket, Project Linus is a national nonprofit organization that supplies blankets to seriously ill or traumatized children. The organization started in the late 1990s in Bloomington, Ill., and now has more than 400 chapters nationwide that have donated more than 2 million blankets.

Regional chapters donate blankets to area hospitals and fire stations, as well as national projects such as Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, an organization that provides for spouses, parents and children survivors of fallen soldiers.

“There is something special about a quilt,” said Sartain, whose group has created about 150 quilts for Project Linus. “They are beautiful and symbolize warmth.”

Sartain became involved with Project Linus in 2007 after learning about the organization at a quilting shop. After volunteering for a year, she formed her group.

“I’m very passionate about Linus,” Sartain said. “You know it’s for a child in need. It’s a labor of love, it really is.”

Besides their meeting, Sartain’s group also spends every fourth Saturday at Lyle’s Fabrics, Crafts and Gifts in Coeur d’Alene with other quilters who come together to support Project Linus.

“I love being a part of something,” Sartain said. “Quilters are such giving, kind and fun people. Knowing that we’re doing it for the children is the best part.”

Sartain’s group is one of many in the area donating time, talent and fabric to the project. Quilters spend an average of eight hours to complete one quilt, some longer depending on complexity of pattern.

“People don’t have to be expert quilters,” Sartain said. “None of ours is perfect. Just have to have the desire to do it.”

Once the quilts are completed, they are given to the area chapter coordinator, Barb McLean. She collects quilts from groups in Western Montana, North Idaho, Eastern Washington and Anchorage, Alaska.

McLean estimates more than 45,000 blankets have been distributed from this area.

“We average 500 blankets a month,” McLean said. “But we never have enough.”

McLean ensures each quilt meets specific standards for cleanliness and safety as well as uniformity in design, right down to the Project Linus label sewn on the corner.

“The children are in the hospital for a reason,” McLean said, who is a retired bacteriologist. She meticulously checks every quilt. “I smell for smoke, food odors or chemicals. I go over each and every one with a magnet and make sure there are no needles or pins.”

Every quilt is made of 100 percent cotton or fleece for washability, and they range from small fleece blankets for premature babies in neonatal intensive care units to larger quilts for teenagers.

McLean has heard many stories about children receiving a quilt from Linus and the comfort it brought. Shortly after she became area coordinator, an employee at Coeur d’Alene’s Fire Station 1 told her about one night when the firefighters responded to a house fire involving four children. A special Debbie Mumm-themed bear quilt along with a stuffed teddy bear sewn by McLean was given to a 2-year-old boy upon his rescue.

“The little boy asked if the bear came from heaven,” McLean said. “Here he just lost his home but he thought it came from heaven.”