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Local knitters share a common thread

Charitable group "Hats from the Heart" knits hats for homeless populations, those undergoing chemotherapy and children.

When Janet Hanlon retired in September 2018, she was looking for a way to give back, and it turned out some of her friends were as well. Having worked for years as a mental health counselor, Hanlon was interested in finding a way to help homeless communities, so she contacted Rowan University’s Street Medicine Outreach team, and over the course of their correspondence, she asked how they could best help. The members discussed the need for warm clothes during the impending colder months.

Inspiration struck. Hanlon had a loom at home, and she had knit hats for charity in the past. Rowan’s team suggested how many hats she and her friends might make. So they made their first batch and handed them out to people living in homeless encampments in Camden.

“Hats from the Heart” was born.

The group quickly caught on, with members making hats until they soon found themselves with a surplus. So, they started distributing them to an infusion center for people undergoing chemotherapy treatment, sending them off with grammar school kids living in Camden and donating them to homeless shelters. 

“It just went off like a domino effect,” Hanlon said. “Not only were a lot of people asking for them, but there were all these people who wanted to make them.” 

For the last nine months, a group of between 10 and 13 individuals have made more than 700 hats. To date, they’ve distributed hats to Cathedral Kitchen in Camden, Christian Caring Center in Browns Mills, Extended Hand Ministry in Mount Holly, Interfaith Hospitality Network of Burlington County, the Penn Medical Infusion Center and the Eyes of Our Hearts mission at the First United Methodist Church of Moorestown. 

While they work on their creations at home each week, the women also gather at Hanlon’s Moorestown home every Thursday to knit together. For some, this is their first time knitting. Moorestown resident Susan Lewis said her friend Hanlon told her about the knitting group she’d started. Hanlon told Lewis she’d provide the loom and show her how to create a hat from scratch. Lewis said within 15 minutes, she was knitting away, and she finished her first hat the day after that initial meeting.

Lewis said knitting has quickly become something of an addiction. She said she enjoys coming to Hanlon’s house each week, and the women share tips about where to get yarn and show off the different hats they’ve made throughout the week. 

When Lewis took their creations to Cathedral Kitchen, she said they were so appreciative of the donation. She said there’s a great satisfaction in knowing that as soon as they make their hats, they’re going out into the world to be used for good. 

“When we do this, we talk about that we’re trying to bring warmth and comfort to another person,” Lewis said. 

Fellow Moorestown resident Mary Menaquale said she recently stumbled upon the group at Autumn in Moorestown Day. They’d set up a donation booth where people could give $5 to donate a hat to one of their recipient organizations. Menaquale said it sounded like such a great cause that she came to a meeting the very next week, where Hanlon very patiently showed her how to knit her first hat.

Menaquale said the group not only enables her to give back to the community, but it’s something she can do on her own time. When she does come to the meetings, there’s an easy rapport as they chat with one another about their lives, but there’s no pressure to attend every single week.

“It fulfills a creative urge in me, and at the same time, it fulfills a need in me to help my fellow man,” Menaquale said.

Hats from the Heart accepts donations of yarn toward their efforts. Those interested in donating or learning more can contact Janet Hanlon at janetfhanlon@gmail.com

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