At the end of January a group of volunteers from the DeForest Area High School delivered a stack of homemade blankets for those who may be the most in need of a little warmth and comfort.
“It started a year ago,” said DeForest Area Police Chief James Olson, “and they approached me about doing a donation so that with kids experiencing trauma, we would have something to comfort them--something sensory, to touch, with a calming effect.”
The group was the DeForest Area High School group FCCLA (Family, Career and Community Leaders of America), led by family and consumer science teachers and co-advisors Brittany Vanderbilt, Bethany Beunning and Tess Holperin.
“Our FCCLA chapter started last year,” said Holperin. “We used to have one, then it stopped and we brought it back last year. And service learning projects are really the basis for FCCLA.”
Among the group’s recent activities have been chalk drawings of positivity and support to welcome teachers back amid the pandemic and making holiday cards for people who were in the hospital and residents of the senior center.
The blanket project came together from various points of inspiration including a similar donation program at another school mentioned in a conference.
When they tried it for the first time last year, they had four students and were able to make about a dozen blankets, but this year with around 10 students, they were able to donate over 30 blankets.
“We’re a slowly growing organization,” said Holperin.
“I think they really enjoy it. They agreed this is something they want to do every year—that they want to keep doing it. I think they like to know that it is for kids and that it helps kids that are in a tough situation.”
The blankets are appreciated, said Olson, who said that even if it is not per se a traumatic situation, that the blankets are good for giving a sense of comfort.
“It is a good partnership with the school,” said Olson, “and they reached out to me again this year and said, ‘We’d love to continue,’ and they came through again. They gave us a big stack of blankets and we picked up a few more from them.”
Since the blankets need to be available when officers respond to an emergency, they put them in plastic bags to keep them clean, and put them in the back of their squad vehicles.
“If they run into a situation where there’s a child that just needs something to help comfort them, we’re able to provide that as a resource to them,” said Olson.
“We tell them where they came from, that they came from the school district and we talk to the parents about it.”
To make the blankets the students first organize a fundraiser to buy materials, which this year was selling t-shirts that read “Norski Strong No Matter the Distance.”
FCCLA leaders then start the hunt for good deals on fabric, and jump on it to buy as much fleece as they can.
The yard-square sheets are then divvied up between the team members to be crafted at home.
Even though everyone was separated and socially distanced, they still worked together, connecting via Google Meet for a crafting session.
The team members layed pairs of the fleece together, cut squares from the corners, meticulously cut one-inch by three-inch strips fringing each side, and tied the overlapping fringes together.
“It was very quiet actually,” said Holperin. “People were concentrating on their blankets and I think they were just happy to see each other.”
After it is delivered at the station, it will wait until a moment when the officer could use some help providing some warmth in a situation.
“It’s a good opportunity that we’re able to provide something to a family,” said Olson, “or a child specifically, in a time of need that gives them a little comfort and then they keep the blanket and hopefully they snuggle with it for a long time.”