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Generous hearts, busy hands are formula for helping those in need



Blanketeer members Angeline Zdyb (left) and Joanne Duszynski work on draft dodgers that will be handed out in November at local food pantries. The group sews, knits and crochets many items for the area needy. The group meets twice a month at the Michigan City Catholic Charities building, the former St. Mary the Immaculate Conception School. (Bob Wellinski photo)


by Bob Wellinski

Northwest Indiana Catholic correspondent


       MICHIGAN CITY - They call themselves the Blanketeers; a group that has seamed themselves together with one common thread, using their sewing, crocheting and knitting abilities to make items for the needy.

       The close knit group, which started in the early 2000s, gathers two Fridays a month for sewing and socializing. The sound of sewing machines mixing with casual conversations fill a classroom in the Michigan City Catholic Charities office, located in the old St. Mary the Immaculate Conception School. 

       Over time, the group has gone from making afghans and quilts to so much more.

       Natalie Kroening, 81, a St. Stanislaus Kostka parishioner and leader of the seven member group, says the group has added   numerous other projects over the years, including hats, mittens and scarves, which are bagged up and sent to schools.

       “It’s not a big donation we make, but if we can help a couple of kids that don’t have them, it’s better than them not having it,” Kroening stated.

       The group also makes: lap quilts; various sized bags, which attach to wheelchairs, walkers and bedrails; trauma dolls; and heart pillows, for cardiac patients who have had open-heart surgery.

       Trying to keep waste to a minimum, the group uses scraps for the filling of draft dodgers - 4-foot long fabric tubes to be placed at the bottom of exterior doors and windows to cut down winter’s drafts. The draft dodgers are distributed at local food pantries in November.

       Kroening said the majority of their material is donated and they try not to waste anything. “We’ve been pretty lucky with the donations we’ve gotten,” she stated. She added that the group is always looking for more fabric and yarn donations.

       The hand crafted items are distributed to various agencies that include: the Ronald McDonald House, nursing homes, women’s shelters, homeless shelters, family crisis centers and schools.

       Kroening said a couple of ladies from Sterling House of Michigan City Retirement Community donate quilted and crocheted items. She added, “We get people from different places who donate items. We had one woman who made 600 hats in a year. She was in a wheelchair and couldn’t do much but she said, ‘I can’t walk, but at least I can use my hands.’”

       Most of the Blanketeers learned to sew from their mothers or were self-taught at a young age.

       Kroening recalled how, as a child, her own mother taught her to crochet and sew. Throughout her lifetime, she has used those skills to make drapes, wedding dresses, costumes - “everything and anything”. In 2001, an article in a local paper noting that the Blanketeers were looking for volunteers caught her attention.

       “I decided to get involved in the group and that was it,” Kroening said. “It’s been so much fun.”

       Angeline Zdyb, 86, a parishioner at Queen of All Saints, was born during the 1930s Great Depression and remembers her mother making her dresses from flour and grain bags. It appealed to her so much that Zdyb, more or less, taught herself to sew and crochet. “It’s nice knowing that I’ve done something that’s worth my time to help others,” Zdyb said, adding, “It’s most rewarding seeing that people enjoy what we make.”

       Joann Rusboldt, of St. Mary the Immaculate Conception, said, “As long as I can walk and talk and help others, I will,” adding, “I enjoy the ladies’ company and look forward to being with them.”

       Blanketeer members agree they get as much out of making the items as the people receiving them. They look forward to the Fridays they are together, finding it therapeutic. The ladies chitchat amongst themselves while keeping their hands busy making their crafts of goodwill.

       “We’re channeling our energy into helping others. It’s that service to others. . . You feel good helping others,” Kroening said.

       For more information about the Blanketeers, call Catholic Charities at 874-8195.

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