I live in Johannesburg, not far from the Knit-a-Square office, and thought it would be nice to write about the experience of visiting the blanket room for the benefit of overseas knitters and crocheters. I know how lovely it is to get insight into the personal side of the charity one supports and i couldn't wait to experience the sorting, packing and stacking process firsthand when I read about it on the website.
At the outset, let me say that I am a really new member of KAS. I only came across the organisation in January 2017 when I did an online search to find a knitting circle I might join. Reading about Ronda and how she started the project inspired me enormously. Then, coming to the forum and immersing myself in some of the discussions, I knew that this was exactly the kind of community I wanted to belong to. Clearly, the members love knitting for good and are super-generous when it comes to helping children in need.
I should also explain that I am severely sight-impaired and rely on a driver to get to where I want to go. My driver's name is Bongi, so she came along as a volunteer too. We found the KAS office in a nicely-secured office park with good parking outside a large garage door, which provided pleasing light and ventilation for the large, open blanket room beyond. Bongi's first words were, "My, there are a lot of busy people in there!" My first impression, without the benefit of vision, was of a serene interior with gentle, uplifting music playing from a sound system at the far end of the room, and of cool air blowing from a large fan to keep the space feeling dry and fresh. Incidentally, there was no trace of a musty smell after February's flood, and the sunlight coming through the windows on the north side made everything feel bright and cheerful.
Ronda greeted us warmly and offered us tea and somewhere to sit while she oversaw the volunteers who were driving the van out to deliver squares to two of the sewing groups. We were shown how the squares are unpacked from their soft packaging and the details of the senders recorded. A couple of volunteers were grouping squares into matching sizes and assembling bundles of 35 coordinating squares. I learnt how to butterfly the loose threads on a square by feeling how it was done, as it had been impossible to follow the pictorial directions on the website. I also got to finger some of the beautiful hats, hand warmers and soft toys that had been sent in, and marvelled at the amazing colour choices some of the knitters had chosen. I'm a knitter myself but have tended to be very conservative in my selection of yarns. That, i can tell, is going to change!
Finally for today's entry, I want to rave about some of the blankets I saw. Again, I had not been able to see them in photographs displayed on the website, so was eager to get up close and touch some of the finished items. They are, in a word, stunning! Laid out on the floor in a pile like stacked pancakes, they reminded me of exotic tile designs comprising rich mosaics and beautifully textured pieces. Some were set in a grid, while others nestled in cosy companionship with each other, the entire effect being one of eye-catching elegance. But not just eye-catching. I couldn't help but run my fingers over the interesting textures. There is nothing quite like knitted or crocheted fabric. It's squishy and huggable, intricate in its stitchery yet strong and comforting in its expanse. It gave me a warm fuzzy feeling to be in the midst of so much lovingly-crafted handwork and committed teamwork. I shall be reporting back regularly on my visits to Knit-a-Square and I hope I can impart to you how much Ronda and the team in SA value and appreciate your participation.
Until next time, let the warm fuzzy feeling be yours as you stitch away!
Thank you Leanne! I just had a large parcel of squares to send and this has made me rethink how to pack them. Now they are in (relatively) easy to carry boxes instead of one large unmanageable squashy parcel.
Ronda has hardly ever complained about KAS operating conditions - she certain is a true stoic, and deserves many more accolades than she receives! Bravo Ronda, you are definitely and angel in disguise!
Congrats to you and your family, Kate...such a blessing. :))
Thank you, Leanne for another insightful and amazing share of the truly wonderful (yourself included) team in SA. So much to do and so many trials to overcome, but all done with a smile and good spirits. :))
There were lots of admiring comments following my last blog post about the overseas mail. Thank you for your appreciative remarks! But of course, we don't for a moment begrudge the amount of packages and boxes that arrive on a weekly basis. Our members are the best, sending hundreds of squares and other knitted items, and they do it for the right reasons.
We were discussing this, in fact, when we paused for a cup of tea this morning. Companies in South Africa do donate to charity but they do so for very warped reasons. Their social action needs to comply with governmental requirements, and the extent to which they do comply benefits their bottom line. So, instead of being moved to support a cause out of genuine concern or admiration, they support it for self-interest. At least, this is generally the case; there are some exceptions who give in spite of what it costs them. And this is what real giving is about. Giving is an act of love and an expression of selflessness.
As if to highlight the selflessness of our members, the pile of blankets brought in to the barn today was enormous. There were probably 150 impossibly beautiful creations waiting to be photographed, folded and bagged. Because it would take two people an age to get through such a task, we all joined in and helped. It was my first time folding and bagging blankets and I relished the opportunity to drape and squeeze them as I worked. I've said it before, but they are all so vastly different and distinctive in their feel and look. From the stiff fabric of Czechoslovakian squares to the squishy crocheted squares out of England, the feathery yarn never before seen in South Africa and the incredible embroidered faces and flowers sent in by some of our most accomplished crafters—the variety is amazing and always a wonder to behold.
We are now out of our intense distribution period as spring is well underway and the weather is warming up significantly. However, with the stock rolling in as it is, we plan to keep up a regular rhythm of distributions throughout the summer months, just to prevent cluttering up the barn. Besides, the temperature has been known to plummet even around Christmas, and we would rather bless the children with blankets, hats, hand warmers and toys now than make them wait.
Speaking of toys, there is a big shortage of them in stock and has been for a while. We like to make up packs comprising a blanket, hat and hand warmer set when we aren't too busy, and the packs are finished off with a bow and a soft toy on the outside. If you are looking for something different to knit over the holiday season, please consider a knitted toy, or you could just include a soft toy purchased from the store with your next parcel. Toys are especially important because they become the child's personal possession and give a sense of ownership. Whereas some children are required to leave their blankets at the creche or share a hat with a sibling, a toy belongs one hundred per cent to the child who receives it.
Meanwhile, the blankets continue to roll in. Wandi was out this morning, collecting finished blankets from the gogo groups. Do you know that the average gogo group comprises about one hundred women? Only about half of them get involved in sewing up blankets, but it's still a much larger number than I had envisioned. Today, Wandi expected to bring in 90 blankets from the gogos and to drop off 5 bags of blanket packs, nine blanket packs in each bag for sewing up. Mabel will take a further 10 bags of blanket packs out later in the week. The gogos earn a small amount for each blanket they sew up, and so their involvement continues. The system works well and runs smoothly, which is why I believe Knit-a-Square is so successful. At every step in the process, people are playing their role. It's truly an amazing effort by all.
Thank you, Leanne, for another really interesting account of life at KAS. It makes us feel that much closer to the centre of the action. I look forward to your accounts and they help me describe KAS in more detail to people who want information.
fantastic report Leanne! I shall have to hunt out some more toys for the kids. Time to hit the charity shops here.
Once again thank you, Leanne, for bringing the KASbarn activity to life for us! I have a particular love for afghans - the look, the feel, and often the history - so your description of the different looks and feels from various parts of the world was extra special for me! I wonder if some day a child, all grown up, will look at his or her blanket and think, "People from all over the world knew of my plight and cared about me!"
As for the toys, hopefully there are many still in transit from Amy's extremely successful 4-month toy drive. Certainly every child should receive a cuddly toy to love :) ... xo
Thank you, Leanne, for sharing another important part of the 'KAS story...the information you share is much appreciated, as we continue to learn more and understand more about 'how it all works' in SA....both at the KAS barn and the broader community of SA. :))
I will definitely be 'toy hunting'. :))
Thank you again Leanne for another beautiful account of Team SA and opening day. I am sure I promised to send off some toys last time it was mentioned but since then I have had my own leak and flood and repairs are soooo expensive ! Hopefully I will get some away before Christmas. It would be great if the toys from Amy's toy "drive" are on their way. I am sure they will start arriving soon.
Here are some photos from this week's opening day.