87: The Red Blanket Project

87: The Red Blanket Project

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Volunteering & Giving Back

The Red Blanket Project

Help one another; there’s no time like the present and no present like the time.

~James Durst

Last October, an extreme cold snap hit Denver for close to a week. It fell to well below zero for several nights. Driving to work early on one of those freezing mornings, I passed a teenager on the corner with just a sweatshirt and a cardboard sign with “ANYTHING HELPS” scratched on it. This young man was visibly shivering. My sister and I had recently closed up and sold my parents’ house and moved them into a nursing facility. Remembering that there was an old red, wool blanket from their house in the trunk, I stopped in traffic and asked this kid if he needed a blanket. He nodded his head and I popped the trunk, handed him the blanket and slid back into my warm car with my heated driver’s seat. As I drove off our eyes met and I will never forget the look of relief on this boy’s face.

I went about my day but could not get that shivering boy out of my head. I wondered how many more homeless youth were struggling on the streets at that very moment. I also thought about that blanket and how many beds it had been on and all the individuals it had kept warm.

I grew up in a modest household, but my mother and father always taught us to give what we had. Mom was always making meals for the sick or knitting blankets, hats and scarves for others to stay warm.

In that moment The Red Blanket Project was born.

I visited my parents at the club where they spent their days at the retirement center and talked with the director about making blankets and scarves for the homeless. She loved the idea, and the seniors started making our no-sew blankets to give to their “adopted” group of inner-city homeless teens. These seniors wanted to help, make a difference and be involved with meaningful projects. They just needed a project that wasn’t complicated and that they could easily complete.

The project grew and youth groups, senior groups, special-needs students, school groups and families all became involved making fleece scarves and blankets—cutting and knotting, but making each with love. It really was a win-win project as individuals and groups stepped up to help.

One day, I was looking at places to deliver our scarves and was talking to a teacher at the school on the campus of the hospital where I work. The school serves high-risk, medically fragile elementary students, many from very-low-income homes. I asked Sue if she thought the kids could use scarves. She answered, “Yes, but let’s have them make some.” The students would make a scarf to keep and make a blanket or scarf to give away. The older classes cut the fabric and the younger classes tied the knots. They worked in teams and made ninety-seven scarves and twenty blankets for a women’s homeless shelter.

When the students presented me with their scarves and blankets, they were very proud of what they had produced and wanted to know exactly where their goods were going and whom they would help. In thanking them, I told them that every one can make a difference: It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much money you make or how much education you have. No matter where you are in life, you can help others. The response was dozens of proud smiles on the faces of kids who knew they had helped keep someone a little warmer and made the world a little better.

~Paul Heitzenrater

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