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!
Thanks everyone for all the lovely comments you write in response to my blog posts! It's really gratifying to know you enjoy reading them. I hope I can keep painting vivid word pictures!
As I reported last time, July is the month when South Africans celebrate Mandela Day. To be more precise, on 18 July, we are encouraged to all spend at least 67 minutes volunteering to help those less fortunate than ourselves. It is a good reminder for us; though, as Ronda told me today, at Knit-a-Square, every day is Mandela Day, because our contributors and volunteers work all year round to wrap needy children in blankets.
She told me that there had been several distributions on 18 July, some run by our own volunteers and one run by staff at the local Post Office. Of the KAS distributions, Lindi’s one in Soweto was the biggest, involving 200 children. The one organised by the postal workers saw them handing out the blankets which they sewed up themselves. Isn’t it great to know that those who receive and handle the overseas packages now have a thorough understanding of and appreciation for the effort that goes into the project?
Although I didn’t notice immediately, it was pointed out to me by Estelle that the barn looked quite empty today, following the removal of nearly all the pre-packed bags. Not only that, but our volunteers were thin on the ground, so I decided to continue chatting to Estelle to hear about her involvement in Knit-a-Square.
Estelle told me that she first heard about the organisation on the radio while driving in her car. She works with her husband, helping out with office administration, and when she’s not in her garden, she’s usually running around town doing chores. On this particular day, an oncologist was being interviewed about her practice, and happened to mention that she places knitting baskets in the waiting room to help people pass the time. “She said she donated squares to a charity called Knit-a-Square,” said Estelle, “and I thought to myself, I can do that. I’m not that keen on knitting, but I like to crochet, and I’d like to make squares for a good cause.”
That was three and a half years ago. Estelle tells of how she looked up Knit-a-Square online, discovered that the office was close to her home, and phoned to find out more. Ronda was delighted to hear of her interest and invited her to pop in on a Tuesday for an opening day. When Estelle saw the volunteers unpacking parcels of squares, garments and toys from around the world, she was inspired, which led her to return again and again. Before long, she was attending distributions and learning to sew up blankets herself.
“I’m passionate about Knit-a-Square,” she says, spreading her arms wide to encompass the barn, the long table with the volunteers sitting around it, and the piles of coloured squares in front of her. My son and daughter laugh because they know I don’t go anywhere without my bag of sewing. My grandson has come here with me a couple of times and keeps asking when he can visit again to see the boxes of toys. I’ve got quite a few of my friends sewing up squares too, and friends of friends, and everyone seems to love it.”
Estelle commits herself to sewing up one blanket a week, as well as delivering bundles of squares and fetching finished blankets to bring in every Tuesday. “It doesn’t sound like much,” she says, “but it works out to about 300 blankets a year.”
That’s 300 rather gorgeous blankets, if you ask me, and it translates to 300 cosy children.
“I’m just so grateful to know Ronda and be connected to all our wonderful contributors,” she muses, reaching down into a large box for another stack of squares. “I’ve got to know a lot of them through what they send. Their generosity never ceases to amaze me.”
Thanks Leanne for another wonderful word picture !
It is lovely to learn about Estelle's involvement as well as that of her friends.
Leanne, once again you have brought the KASbarn to life. Hello to Estelle!!
I love that you chat with the volunteers and share some of the background and information about who they are and how they became involved with Knit-a-Square. It's like our great big family is getting to know one another through your beautiful words. Thank you so very much! xo
Thank you Leanne for sharing more background of Estelle. I see her so often in the photos that I was wondering if she had dragged her bed in there so avoid being late for work!!
300 a year - what an effort. The power of radio to spread the word is so important.
Keep going Estelle!!!
Thank you Leanne for sharing another day in the KAS barn with us. I love it when I see you have written something for us, learning a little more about Estelle has been great; thank you Leanne and Estelle.
Another truly wonderful share, Lee. I especially love the 'shares' of Team SA volunteers. Wow!! Time has certainly flown.....I had no idea that Estelle had been with KAS for that long. I have love, love, loved, reading about her. I deduced from the comments she makes in the forum that she is a lovely lady......and you have confirmed it....and then some. :))
Thank you both soooo much......and Bongi, too.
Thank you Leanne for yet another great chapter of the KAS story. I love hearing all about the volunteers in South Africa. :))
You'll all be interested to hear that Bongi is really catching a vision for the work of Knit-a-Square. Last week, she spoke to Ronda about the children who come to her church in Hillbrow, which is an area in the centre of Johannesburg. She was concerned because so many of them seem to have too few clothes and their parents, being young and often unemployed, don't seem to be able to buy them warm garments and toys. Ronda responded with her usual animation, inviting her to pack up some bags with enough blankets, hats, hand warmers and toys, and to distribute them the next time she went to church.
"It was really wonderful," said Bongi when I saw her again on Monday morning. "The children were so happy and their parents couldn't believe how beautiful the blankets were!"
She said that they incorporated the distribution of the items into the end of the service so the people could give thanks. Then they held a little party for the children with chips and juice. The children ranged between two-and-a-half and thirteen years old, and there were thirty recipients in total.
I asked Bongi if there was one story which had touched her in particular. She told me about a nine-year-old girl who lives in a home because she is disabled. She happened to be staying with her mother for the weekend so received one of Knit-a-Square's unique handmade blankets. When her mother asked if she wanted to keep it at home while she was away, she replied, "no, I want to take it with me! It's too precious to leave behind! I want to be the only one who uses it because it was given to me!"
Bongi says it meant so much for the children and their parents to know that people care about them enough to make such lovely gifts. Life is hard for many of them, but Sunday brought a real blessing!
Truly wonderful and heartwarming Leanne, thank you and well done Bongi for highlighting the real needs of these children!
Thank you Leanne and thank you Bongi for thinking of the children in your church.