Twice a month, volunteers gather at The Homestead apartments in McFarland. They pile bags of fabric, yarn and stuffing onto a table in the center of the room and get to work knitting, sewing, crocheting and tagging.
Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) Group Projects Program creates hand-crafted items for 80 nonprofit organizations, social services agencies, faith-based organizations and schools in Dane County.
The program donated more than 12,000 hand-crafted items in 2018, totaling about 48,000 hours of volunteer work. They craft items for all ages, from newborns to those entering end-of-life care.
Two hundred-fifty people from 20 groups volunteers in Dane County create mittens, hats, scarves, quilts, wheelchair and walker bags and more.
“Everything that gets made gets donated to nonprofit organizations throughout Dane County,” Group Projects coordinator Kate Seal said. “Then they’ll get to receive these hand-crafted items and you’ll know by looking at these things how much love goes into it and time.”
The McFarland group meets the first and third Friday of each month from 1-3 p.m. at The Homestead apartments.
Seal describes the McFarland group is “incredibly industrious.” They often make many walker and wheelchair bags to donate to hospice organizations, rehabilitation facilities and area care centers.
“They make them by the tens, by the dozens and end up accumulating by the hundreds. So this particular group is incredibly industrious,” Seal said. “They love what they do. … You’ll see they’re always excited to show off what they’ve made, to share cool patterns they’ve come up with.”
“I’ve made a lot of friends and it’s really taught me how much of a need there is in Dane County for so many different things,” said Trudy Brule, a member of the McFarland group.
The program also allows her to recycle used clothing into new items. She can make two pairs of mittens and a hat from one sweater that is donated or purchased.
Seal estimates that about 95 percent of materials used to create items are donated. RSVP Group Projects Program 2018 statistics state that 3,222.75 pounds of recycled and donated material was kept out of landfills.
Seal said that while many people enjoy the social aspect of the groups, some volunteers still work part-time, volunteer with other organizations, have family commitments or prefer to work alone in their free time. These volunteers are referred to as “homeworkers” who contact Seal once they accumulate items for pickup.
It is up to the volunteers how much time to put in. One volunteer may make one hat per week, while another could make one hat per year.
Seal said some people come with a big foundation of skills and have been sewing since childhood. Others are self-taught and come only knowing a few knitting stitches.
“We kind of take everyone who wants to learn under our wing, and we show them the ropes, and then they can start contributing, too,” she said. “If you want to do this and you want to give back a little bit of your time and your talent, we’re here.”
Each organization fills out a form to request items from the group. The need for these items change with each season, and organizations can make special requests.
The group creates fidget blankets and fidget muffs for people with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease and children with autism. The blankets and muffs have zippers, stuffed animals and beads sewn in to help sooth anxiety.
“We serve a lot of child trauma centers and counseling centers,” said Seal.
Volunteers make hospital dolls with blank faces for children to draw a facial expression that reflects how they feel.
“It’s like a therapeutic activity,” she said.
The group also works with the Madison Metropolitan School District to create totes with books for children to take home, and Heartland Hospice to create patriotic quilts for veterans.
“(The group) gets me out of the house. It keeps me busy,” said 92-year-old Audrey Boushon.
Boushon began sewing at age 10 and has been a part of the group for 10 years.
She creates many patriotic quilts for Heartland Hospice.
“This stuff is fun and the need is there,” said Barb Janoski.
She said creating the items for charity helps give her a purpose.
“Last winter was so horrible the need was huge,” she said.
Those who would like to volunteer or donate items can contact Seal at 310-7280 or firstname.lastname@example.org.