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Security blankets for young people

Remember that favorite blankie that provided so much security for you, your child or any other child you may know? Project Linus is working to provide that same security for ill or traumatized children.

"I enjoyed sewing and quilting, and I wanted someplace or someone to give items to because after a while, your own children and grandchildren just don't need any more quilts," Kay Oakland said with a laugh.

Oakland is the chapter coordinator for the Norman/Mahnomen Counties Chapter, which has grown to include Becker County as well.

There is a chapter in eastern North Dakota, which includes Fargo, and Oakland first started taking her donated quilts there.

"I just kept thinking, it's a good thing, but it would be nice to be able to give to the children locally," she said of starting the local chapter four years ago.

"I've just been amazed at the outpouring of love the people are willing to donate of their time and talents to Project Linus."

Headquartered in Illinois, Project Linus has chapters throughout all 50 states, and has provided over four million blankets throughout the United States.

Locally, the Norman/Mahnomen Counties Chapter is celebrating four years in existence. The local chapter has distributed about 1,100 blankets and quilts to local hospitals, ambulances, sheriff departments, fire departments, rescue services, funeral homes and other agencies that serve children.

She said that although it started with just Norman and Mahnomen counties, "there was such a good response that I had a lot more blankets than what I had outlets for in Norman and Mahnomen counties."

So she started to deliver the blankets to Essentia Health St. Mary's in Detroit Lakes and RiverView Health in Crookston. She also delivers to Indian Children Welfare, Ada hospital and Mahnomen hospital, social services and funeral homes.

"Each one of the sheriff's departments in Norman and Mahnomen counties carry a Project Linus blanket in their deputy vehicles."

Project Linus started in 1995, when a woman saw the article "Joy to the World" in Parade Magazine. The article talked about a little girl, Laura, who was diagnosed with leukemia and had endured plenty of pain and suffering, yet had a sunny outlook on life. Through all the trips to the hospital and sickness, she had a special blanket that went everywhere with her.

After that article, Karen Loucks decided to make blankets for Denver's Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center. Thus, Project Linus was born.

Since then, Project Linus has grown to nearly 400 chapters throughout the United States. All of the homemade blankets are created by volunteers, and the blankets can come in all sizes, colors and materials -- quilts, tied comforters, fleece blankets, crocheted or knitted afghans. The blankets must be homemade, washable, free of pins and come from smoke-free environments due to allergy reasons.

Not only is the organization's mission to provide blankets for children, it's also an outlet for volunteers to give of their talents.

"That's where I got involved initially because it was an opportunity to do something you enjoy doing and have an outlet for it," Oakland said.

She makes about 15-20 quilts and fleece blankets a year herself, but Oakland said that as coordinator she's busy with other tasks so she can't make as many as she had planned on making.

When she receives the quilts, she labels them all with a label that says the blanket was donated by Project Linus. She then packages the individual blanket to be given to a child. The blankets go to kids ages 0-18.

Oakland said some of the quilts have come from friends of hers, but mostly it's been from volunteers who have heard about the program and wanted to be a part of it.

"Majority of the blankets are made by individuals in their home at their own pace. I have a few church groups, and I've had some donated by senior citizens, a couple schools groups, so that's been really fun -- children giving back to children."

For those who want to support the program but aren't quilters or blanket makers themselves, monetary donations are always welcome as well. The money will go toward purchasing material and supplies for someone to make the blankets.

To get involved, contact Kay Oakland at 218-356-8718 or genekayo@tvutel.com.

Follow Pippi Mayfield on Twitter at @PippiMayfield.

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