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!

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  • Thank you Leanne and just everybody these are so inspiring and informative comments. I need advice about packaging for distribution. After reading how the items are packed in sets for handing out I'm thinking of how I can make my little things easier for packing. 

    My little toys actually fit in a plastic sandwich bag. I had changed to sending them in individual bags some months ago so volunteers would see they are one for a child, and not sets. But now I wonder if I should punch a hole in corner of these bags and run yarn string thru so the yarn could be temporarily bow tied onto the blankets for distribution? 

    Yes, I do worry about the danger of plastic being given to a child and depend on the Care Teacher removing the toy. I could maybe run the yarn string thru the toy handle. ???

    What do you think? 

    • Thanks for thinking of all the ways you can help, dear Deborah ... whatever happens, we would remove any plastic bags before we pack the soft toys for distribution, so toys would not actually be attached to any of the blankets and any "sets" would, in any case, be separated out as individual toys.

      In our experience, informal settlement children seem to be more vulnerable than their counterparts elsewhere, simply because the dangers of plastic bags, staples, safety pins and such are submerged in the face of greater parental challenges such as finding food and providing shelter.  

      So it's up to us to make distributed items safer from the outset.  

      Keep doing what you are doing - it is great !!

      • Okedoke. Thank you Ronda. 

        • Well, Tuesday was the final opening day of the year at Knit-a-Square and it's already Thursday  — evidence of the silly season and having so many "non-routine" things to do!  I heard from Ronda this morning and she too is run off her feet with end-of-year responsibilities.  But it's all good, getting things wrapped up and finished so that next year can get off to a fresh new start.  Note that this blog will also be starting afresh as Linda maltby has offered to archive all this year's entries and start me off with a clean slate!  I look forward to being a bit better organised so you can all find the updates more easily.

          Anyway, to get back to opening day.  Needless to say, the atmosphere was very festive.  Not only were we celebrating Christmas but also Wandi's birthday.  There has been a flood of birthdays lately, so lots of cake has been shared, and this week some of the volunteers brought extra treats too, making for an indulgent morning!

          Ronda asked me to remind you to check out the KAS store for gift ideas.  Of particular interest at this time of year are the calendars and Christmas cards, all featuring blankets and children.  For those of you who don't know how the Christmas cards work, you order them via the site, and once payment has been made, you receive an email with a link to download the card designs.  These can then be taken to a print shop to have printed on proper card, or you can just print them out on normal printer paper on your home printer.  There is a little message you can print out and insert with your card if you wish to make a donation in someone's name and let them know about it.  Of course, you can also buy symbolic gifts like educational supplies for a child or fruit for a distribution.  All these items let people know about the charity you support while helping the children at the same time.

          Wendy came in for a while, bringing cake for Wandi's birthday.  Wendy no longer comes regularly to opening days but was an absolute pillar of strength to Ronda in years gone by.  She is still a great supporter of our work and is loved by the volunteers who started out with her.  She had a friend with her and I spotted her giving her friend the "grand tour", taking her around the barn and showing her the parcel pile, the boxes of soft toys, hats and hand-warmers, the pile of blankets being photographed on the carpet, how the blankets are folded and packed into bags, and where these bags are stored to await distribution.  From when I did the grand tour, I know that it is hugely inspiring.  I'm sure Wendy's friend will have gone away feeling touched and amazed at what Ronda and the team manage to accomplish.

          I sat with some of the ladies sorting squares, as I usually do, picking up tips.  It is a source of frustration when a package contains squares of diverse sizes, because then they have to be matched with similar-sized squares which may be difficult to find.  It doesn't matter if the squares deviate slightly from the standard measurements [this is normal, especially given the different kinds of yarn used to make them], but some squares are scarcely squares at all, and these are very tricky to match.  I must say, the ladies show great commitment and perseverance in creating a bundle of equal-sized, harmoniously-coloured squares, but the task would definitely be made easier if there were more uniformity.  When Estelle unpacked a box from the UK this week and found perfectly-matched squares, all bundled and counted with a note in the bottom of the box, she actually whooped with delight!  "That's the fastest box I've unpacked all year!" she exclaimed.  "What a feeling of accomplishment, even though I had nothing to do with it!"

          I want to say, for myself, that finding Knit-a-Square this year and getting involved as I have has been a great experience.  I'm excited for next year and what it will bring.  This is not just an organisation but a family, a community, a network of caring people who all do their bit to make the vision of giving knitted blankets and accessories to children a reality.  I absolutely love the blankets that the gogos and other volunteers put together, and the hats, hand-warmers and toys are as bursting with love and well-wishes as they are colourful.  The team that comes together on a Tuesday are all amazing and lift my spirits with their enthusiasm and kindness.  Then there is the community of knitters, crocheters and toy-makers, not to mention our incredible donors who keep the wheels turning financially.  And most of all — need I say it? — I am in awe of Ronda and Sandy for the ongoing work they do, both on the ground and behind the scenes, giving us all a place to fit in and play a role.

          To everyone out there, thank you for making 2017 special.  Wishing you all a very happy and peaceful Christmas season!

          • Thank you, Leanne, for another super peek into the KASbarn :)

            I wish everyone a Very Merry Christmas and a Peaceful and Happy New Year!

            "God bless us, every one!”

            - Charles Dickens, A Christmas Carol

          • Thank you Leanne for your wonderful word pictures.  We really appreciate learning about the KASbarn and all that goes on there.

            Here's the team helping Wandi celebrate :-)

            Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing

            And a cute picture of Bongi with 15 toys from the Clear Lake Methodist Church USA

            Image may contain: 1 person, smiling

            • Thank you Leanne for all the info. 

              Wandi's cake looks lovely.

              I love the giant caterpillar in the toys.

              A wonderful Christmas to all of you at KAS central.

            • Thank you again Leanne and may your Christmas be merry and bright ! I look forward to your stories in the new year.

              Thank you for the photos Linda. Wandi looks suitably Christmassy and birthdayish with streamers adorning her and the cake !  Happy birthday Wandi !

              A lovely array of toys that Bongi is supervising. Lucky children. They all look quite large too. Many thanks to CLMC who give so much.

    • Thank you, Leanne, for sharing another day at the KASbarn.....your 'reports' are the closest thing to being there.  :))

      Happy Belated Birthday to all the 'Birthday Girls'.  xo

  • Thanks again Leanne, for a refreshing "look" at happenings in the KASbarn - it is so wonderful for me to be able to leave everything in the capable hands of so many volunteers and go away for a full week and Kruger Park is Peter's and my most special place of refreshing and rest always, despite the November heat. This time we were hosting three friends from WAY back in Zimbabwe days so memories were savoured and there were many laughs ... along with some tears too, as one of our number lost her husband 18 months ago and he was so much part of the Zim group in the good old days ! 

    While we were there the news on Zimbabwe broke, so that caused much excitement and common interest as well.

    And, for the first time in 20 years of visiting the Park, we saw more than 30 lions in 3 sightings in ONE DAY !  That is an all time record for us, and for most visitors to Kruger, I would think !

    Back to the work - Monday saw us collecting the largest post EVER (this is a month for superlatives !) which cost R4100.00 in handling fees ... and took Dorelle and me more than three and a half hours to collect !  The volunteers were thrilled ... it's an ill wind, as they say !!!

    Love to you all - it is impossible to write individual emails these days (gmail is troublesome and needs a technician to sort it out which I will arrange in due course) but we are always deeply grateful to each and every ONE of you for all you do to keep us going and your lovely lovely contributions and massive generosity !

    God bless you all xoxoxoxoxo

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