By Mira Patel
Meet Michele Willis, chapter coordinator of Project Linus for Kern, Tulare and Fresno counties and some of her local “blanketeers” who give back to local children in need. Wanting to give back after Hurricane Katrina, Willis took to the Internet to research organizations that were accepting donations. She stumbled upon Project Linus and decided to start a local chapter in November 2005.
Willis, said, “The program was named from the security blanket-toting character from the Peanuts comic strip. We are a volunteer based non profit that provides a new, handmade blanket and afghans to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need.”
While Willis helps to facilitate and lead the local chapter, she couldn’t do it without her assistant coordinator Millie Abel and the local blanketeers. There is a core group of nearly three-dozen women who meet every month to turn in blankets. There are also church groups, scout troops, individuals, businesses and other organizations that volunteer their time.
It’s important to note that each blanket goes through a rigorous “blanket pass inspection,” said Willis. She explains that each blanket receives a special poem; goes through a metal detector to ensure no pins are left behind, are sized and then bagged for delivery.
According to Willis, “All blankets stay local unless there is a major catastrophe in the nation. Even then, we make certain we can provide to the local children first then give to others.”
Through the entire process thus far, two of the most memorable moments for Willis is receiving the Chamber of Commerce Humanitarian Group of the Year Award for 2007 and 2008, and delivering the blankets with her six children. While they can no longer deliver the blankets themselves due to the H1N1 virus, she explained it was rewarding teaching them the importance of community service.
It’s important to understand that Project Linus, does not receive funds from the national headquarters, nor does Willis receive pay for her time or service. She too is a dedicated volunteer. For Willis, Project Linus isn’t about her she said, “It’s about the whole community that unites to serve others and while serving we learn new things, often time teaching others and in the midst of it all, make friendships and find purpose with our life!” There is no experience necessary to participate as a blanketeer and volunteers are always welcome, especially as we head into the winter months.