Blankets can keep you toasty on cold nights or clean and relatively ant-free on picnics. Lucy Blaylock and Tori Holmes make blankets for a different purpose: to comfort people going through difficult times. They want their blankets to feel like a big, warm hug. We spoke to the girls, who each won a Prudential Spirit of Community Award, about their inspiration, who has received blankets and how kids can get involved in helping others.
Lucy learned to sew three years ago, when she was 8. After she made a flannel blanket for a friend’s birthday, she started to think about other kids who might need a little extra love. She asked her parents if she could organize a giveaway and shared her idea on her mom’s Instagram account (lucysloveblankets). She received 16 responses from children facing issues such as cancer, autism, bullying, divorce and the death of a grandmother.
“It makes me excited when I think of the kids getting the package in the mail and opening it,” said the 11-year-old, who just completed fifth grade in Gallatin, Tennessee. “I always hope they know someone cares about them.”
Since 2017, Lucy has donated about 500 Lucy’s Love Blankets to kids living in 14 countries and nearly three-dozen states. She spends about two hours sewing the fabric by machine and hand-stitching her name inside a heart — her logo, of sorts. During the coronavirus pandemic, she turned her attention to making masks for health-care workers, but she jumps back into blanket action when she receives a request from a child suffering from a terminal illness. “Even though it gets a little hard sometimes,” she said, “it is always the right thing to do.”
For kids interested in volunteering, she recommends they forge ahead without overthinking it. “Don’t wait until you have everything figured out. Just do it, and keep going,” she said. “Even when you feel like it might not be making that big of a difference, serving other people always matters.”
Tori knows firsthand the challenges of being separated from a parent. When she was 6 years old, her mother was hospitalized for six months with leukemia. Tori moved into her aunt’s house, leaving her Corning, New York, home so quickly that she had only enough time to pack an overnight bag.
“I missed my blanket and, of course, I missed my mom,” the 13-year-old said.
To help her feel closer to her mom, her aunt told her to look at the stars, because they were the same ones her mother was gazing at through her hospital window.
Last July, inspired by her own experience, Tori started to make pairs of blankets for family members kept apart by unfortunate circumstances, such as illness. The parents receive one blanket; the kid gets the other one.
“I wanted to make a magic blanket that connects people,” she said. “This way they have hope that they will be together again.”
Tori has given away more than 50 fleece blanket sets, which take her one to two hours to make. She lays out two pieces of material, cuts the edges into fringe and knots the ends together. One side always has a star pattern, a tribute to her aunt’s soothing words and her project’s tagline: “Even if you’re separated by highways, you’re connected through starways.”
She donates the blankets to a children’s hospital, the medical-care facility that took care of her mother and the school where her mother teaches. Families can also request the twin blankets at firstname.lastname@example.org. She also made one for her grandmother, who died in April. “Now I have a blanket that matches hers on the edge of my bed,” she said. “You’re always connected to me, and I’m connected to you.”
Tori, who will enter high school in the fall, said Operation Starways has been so successful because the idea sprung from a personal experience. “I want to give people who are going through what I went through hope.”