By Mary Colucci Warm Up America! Foundation www.WarmUpAmerica.org
For those who might not know the history of the Warm Up America! program, it was the brainchild of Evie Rosen, a former yarn shop owner in Wausau, WI. In 1990, frustrated by the great need for blankets for the homeless and her inability to knit large quantities fast enough, she came up with the idea of dividing up the process and asking friends to knit and crochet small 7” by 9” sections.
She approached customers, friends from a professional women’s organization and from her synagogue. Everyone pitched in. Some knit or crocheted sections; others joined them together to complete colorful patchwork afghans. After a story about Evie’s efforts appeared in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the program just took off nationally and has been growing ever since.
Why afghans? Evie always said, “There are basic needs that we all share and keeping warm is one of them–whether it’s for someone in a shelter in Wisconsin, a mother and child in a battered women’s home in Texas or an older adult in an assisted living center in Georgia.” The other point that Evie realized early on is that a gift of something handmade brings special warmth and love to someone in need.
When her shop overflowed, people started dropping off donations at her home. It got to the point that she couldn’t even open her back door. It was then she approached the Craft Yarn Council and asked for help to expand the program nationally. The Council’s office became the collection and distribution point for Warm Up America and in the early 2000s, the Council officially incorporated the program as a 501C3 charitable foundation.
The Council has always tried to maintain the spirit of Evie’s dream, which is: Neighbors helping neighbors. It encourages individuals and groups to complete and donate afghans in their own community, though the office receives and joins thousands of individual sections annually. To date, estimates are that more than 775,000 afghans and accessories have been distributed to people in need by Warm Up America groups and through the office.
Perhaps the most gratifying aspect of Warm Up America is that it is truly a “win/win” program. It connects people to their community and it is a terrific program for all ages.
Teachers have successfully introduced the program to students as young as grammar-school age. Learning the skills of knitting or crocheting helps younger children strengthen their motor skills, learn to follow instruction, plus they work with their classmates to complete sections and sometimes an entire afghan. Because of teachers’ interest, the Council has a special section at its web site for educators (http://www.craftyarncouncil.com/teach-knit-and-crochet.html).
Adults are amazingly generous with their time and talents. Research conducted by the Craft Yarn Council showed that 60% of knitters and crocheters create projects for charity every year. We’re pleased that Warm Up America is among their most popular charities.
We hope you’ll visit the Warm Up America! web site: www.WarmUpAmerica.org
There are free patterns, hints on assembling afghans and program tips, which we know you’ll find helpful. Be sure to post digital photos of your Warm Up America group and/or afghan on our Facebook page and thanks for helping us Warm Up America!
Note: We always encourage groups to create afghans and distribute them in their own community but if that’s not possible, sections and afghans can be sent to: Warm Up America! 460 Hospital Dr. Ste. E Gastonia, NC 28054