If you’re reading this article, chances are that last night you slept in a warm bed snuggled under a warm blanket. But across the Fraser Valley—and indeed, the country—there are countless people who bed down each night under bridges, in doorways or even in cardboard boxes. The volunteers at Blankets for Canada aim to provide a basic necessity—a warm blanket—for some of society’s most marginalized citizens.
“The majority of us climb into bed at night and take it for granted,” says Nancy Gallagher, who heads up the Abbotsford Chapter of Blankets for Canada. “The thanks, the hugs and the connections we make let us know the difference these simple gifts make in peoples’ lives.”
Gallagher’s involvement in the charity was, as she calls it, “a happy accident.” She and a friend, Carol Timoffee, heard that Michael’s in Abbotsford collected knitted and crocheted squares that were made into blankets for charity. As it turned out there were 16 boxes of squares waiting at the Michael’s store—and the manager had idea who to contact. Gallagher, who now also serves at Vice President on the Board of Trustees, and Timoffee tracked down Blankets for Canada founder, Nancy Panting. “Carol could crochet, and I could knit,” says Gallagher. “We figured, ‘why not?’ ”
That was 2007. Four years later, Blankets for Canada’s Abbotsford Chapter meets monthly from October through May in donated classroom space at that same Michael’s store. The Chapter has about 15 regular members—although last month 30 people showed up to lay out and stitch together dozens of eight-inch squares into blankets.
Established in 1998 in Lethbridge, Alta, Blankets for Canada is the brainchild of Panting who, along with her husband, enjoyed crochet and wanted to use their scrap yarn to help others less fortunate than themselves. “Many Canadians support organizations that help those in other countries,” she says, “but Blankets for Canada brings an awareness of what’s going on here at home.”
In that first year, 200 blankets were made and distributed; by 2009, that number increased to over 8,000. Of those, the Abbotsford Chapter contributes about 700 blankets each year—350 of which are made by the volunteers, with the remainder donated by another local charity, the Mennonite Central Committee (MCC).
A non-denominational, non-profit organization, Blankets for Canada is run completely by volunteers. “A lot of love goes into each blanket,” says Panting. “It’s awesome to see what’s done each year.” Over its 11-year history, the charity has become a coast-to-coast organization, serving communities from Nanaimo to Halifax. Each finished blanket—labeled Compliments of Blankets for Canada. NOT FOR SALE—is used in the community in which it’s made.
Blankets from the Abbotsford Chapter go to organizations such as the Fraser Valley Women’s Resource Centre’s Warm Zone, Cyrus Centre, a youth and teen resource centre and Abbotsford Community Centre’s Best for Babies program for at-risk moms and babies. “We like to help the groups that may not receive support from anyone else,” Gallagher says.
Sometimes that support is a little more direct.
On a recent Saturday, Gallagher stopped to pick up a few groceries. In her trunk were a number of blankets from MCC that were to be handed out the next day. As she loaded her bags, a homeless man approached her and politely asked if she could spare some cash. She explained she’d used her debit card for her purchase, and he noticed the blankets in the trunk. “Are those blankets?” he asked. Yes, she replied, and asked whether he could use one. “Oh yes, ma’am,” he said, “I surely could.”
She gave him a blanket, and finished loading her groceries. A moment later, the man came back. “Ma’am, my buddy is around the corner,” he said. “Is there any way he could have a blanket, too?” Gallagher gave him another and apologized again for not having any cash. “Oh, that’s okay,” he said. “These are better than money.”
It’s just this kind of experience that Gallagher says is the reason she and the Blankets for Canada volunteers do what they do. “With love in every stitch, we’re able to keep people who need comfort and hope a little warmer.”
Blankets for Canada’s Abbotsford Chapter meets this Thursday, March 3, from 11:00 a.m to 2:00 p.m at Michael’s in Abbotsford. For information, contact Nancy Gallagher at 604.504.3713.
To find out more about how you can support Blankets for Canada, please visit their website at www.blankets4canada.ca