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Germantown students crochet hearts as valentine fundraiser for Warm Up America

Ruth Wilson, right, 14, crochets a stuffed heart that will later be sold to classmates as Stephanie Pomrenke, left, 16, demonstrates a move with crochet hooks to Jazmine Jules, 14. The money raised by the crochet and knitting club’s sales will help fund yarn and other purchases to participate in the Warm Up America program. (Brian Lewis/The Gazette)

Getting a valentine can warm your heart, but the valentines being exchanged at Northwest High School in Germantown are also comforting someone in need.

Students here are not only playing Cupid, they also are playing part in a national program called Warm Up America to get homemade blankets to nonprofit organizations such as the American Red Cross and hospice care programs.

About 20 high-schoolers are busy crocheting small, stuffed red hearts that their classmates buy for $2 each. The crocheters then deliver the hearts with personal messages during school on Valentine’s Day. The fundraiser will help the group of crocheters buy more yarn used to make the blankets.

Kim Fuentes, the club president and a senior, started the club four years ago and said she hopes to sell 100 crocheted hearts this month.

“I love that I learned something new by starting this club and that I can make something that brings a smile to people’s faces,” she said.

The club has made seven blankets. In December, the club donated three blankets to the Stepping Stone Shelter in Rockville.

“When we gave them three blankets we had been making since my freshman year, that was very sentimental,” Fuentes said.

Crocheting an afghan can be a tedious task, but WUA breaks it down into 49 smaller squares. Volunteers crochet individual squares that are then sent to the organization. WUA has other volunteers who attach all the patches together to create the blanket. Some participants, however, create the entire blanket themselves without sending the squares to WUA.

That’s what these club members do — make the blanket from the first hook to the final stitch. Students here earn 30 minutes in student service credits for each patch they create, said Anne Marcinko, social studies teacher and club sponsor for the school.

“I selected WUA as the club I wanted to sponsor because I like to knit and crochet as a hobby, anyway, but I also wanted students to focus on helping others and earn service hours. I stumbled upon the Warm Up America Web site, and it was just what I was looking for,” Marcinko said.

The WUA program was started in 1991 by Evie Rosen, a yarn-shop owner from Wisconsin who started making afghans for her local shelter. Inundated by the need, she asked for help from fellow knitters to make one patch of a blanket at a time that could later be assembled together. As word spread, Rosen began receiving so many patches for blankets, she couldn’t keep up assembling them. She solicited help from the Craft Yarn Council, the organization that now runs WUA.

Often, volunteers such as the Northwest High club members make the entire blanket themselves without sending patches to the council, said Mary Colucci, executive director of WUA. Colucci estimates the organization’s volunteers have donated 250,000 blankets to individuals and nonprofit groups nationwide.

Agencies that request blankets are “a range of organizations, including battered women’s shelters, hospice, the Red Cross. The premise of the program is neighbors helping neighbors,” Colucci said.

Recently, many of WUA’s blankets were donated to nonprofit organizations in West Virginia serving residents affected by the snow dumped by Hurricane Sandy, Colucci said.

“It is a great project, particularly for schools, because they work together and have to coordinate it and help each other knit or crochet,” Colucci said.


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