Handmade items hold a special place in the heart and are often highly desired gifts, with craft fairs a popular attraction year-round and particularly around the holiday season.
Whether those crafted items be sewn, baked, forged or knitted, the extra care and attention to detail helps set those items apart from mass produced products.
One group working to provide handmade items to less fortunate families in the Gig Harbor and Key Peninsula communities comes from a source that might surprise some people: the Washington Corrections Center for Women (WCCW) in Purdy.
The knitting group is called “Hearts and Hands,” and is run by Carolyn Mitchell, a Gig Harbor local who was one of the original group members when the group started in 1995.
It’s a group of women who are trying to give back to society. There’s nothing selfish about them at all. The main purpose (of the group) is knitting items for charities.
Carolyn Mitchell, leader of the Hearts and Hands knitting group
“It’s a group of women who are trying to give back to society. There’s nothing selfish about them at all,” Mitchell said. “The main purpose (of the group) is knitting items for charities. It mainly started out knitting hats for cancer patients or people going through chemotherapy at the hospitals. It’s grown now into knitting lap blankets for rest homes — and we’ve taken on knitting pet beds for animal rescues.”
The group of women from the WCCW meet weekly for two hours with Mitchell to work on their projects, either knitting or crocheting.
“One nice thing about the class is the women help each other,” Mitchell said. “If someone has a question about knitting or crocheting that I can’t answer, there’s usually someone else in the class who steps up and is willing to help.”
The materials for the class are donated to the WCCW from the community, from churches and fellow knitters from their personal yarn collections.
“It’s all donated,” Mitchell said. “You’d be surprised how people who used to be knitters or crocheters go through their things and donate their leftover yarn.”
Working with donated materials can provide a challenge for the women to figure out creative ways to blend different types and colors of yarn to finish their projects, since very little of the donated yarn is matching.
“The women have to be inventive and figure out how to use several different colors together,” Mitchell explained. “With the pet beds, the little kitties and dogs don’t mind what color their beds are.”
When the family comes in, it’s a one-on-one shopping experience. We’re really the middle-man. We bring together the people in need with those who want to help.
Tami Miller-Bigelow, Holiday Helper coordinator for the Children’s Homes Society of Washington/Key Peninsula Family Resource Center
But animals aren’t the only ones who receive hand-crafted products from the group. For the last four years the group has been donating items to the Children’s Homes Society of Washington/Key Peninsula Family Resource Center in Vaughn.
“We were looking for a place that was low income and needed hats and scarves where people could come and pick them and not have to pay for them,” Mitchell said. “It just sort of opened up for us to contribute to them.”
The items are included in the center’s annual Holiday Helper event where eligible Key Peninsula families can receive assistance with holiday gifts for their children, said Tami Miller-Bigelow, a family advocate for the center and the Holiday Helper coordinator.
“When the family comes in, it’s a one-on-one shopping experience,” Miller-Bigelow explained. “We’re really the middle man. We bring together the people in need with those who want to help.”
Every parent gets to pick out the toys for their children. It’s their present. Every kid deserves new toys and clothes this time of year.
Jud Morris, executive director for the Children’s Homes Society of Washington/Key Peninsula Family Resource Center
The Holiday Helper program has been taking place for more than 15 years on the Key Peninsula, with Miller-Bigelow coordinating the program for the past six years.
The knitted and crocheted items this year include several blankets that have been combined with other donated quilts to provide enough for each family participating in the Holiday Helper program to choose one to take home. A five-week sign-up for the Holiday Helper program took place earlier this fall and participating families will visit the center over the next couple of weeks during set appointments to choose from the donated gifts for their children.
“The parents will get to choose one pair of pajamas per child, two toys per child, a stocking, a blanket and a container of laundry detergent,” Miller-Bigelow said.
Every year the program provides a household item to families, and laundry detergent was chosen as this year’s item because of how expensive it can be for families.
There’s some evenings that I think ‘oh, I would rather be doing something else tonight.’ But once I get there, these women are so appreciative to be able to have this class that I come away feeling really good. It really means a lot to them to be able to do this.
The goal of the Holiday Helper program is to help provide at-need families a way to give a positive holiday experience to their children, explained Jud Morris, the center’s executive director.
“Every parent gets to pick out the toys for their children. It’s their present,” Morris said. “Every kid deserves new toys and clothes this time of year.”
The program serves roughly 100 at-need Key Peninsula families, including close to 200 children each year.
“The program has been wonderful in that it has brought a lot of cheer to children at this time of year,” Miller-Bigelow said. “A lot of people that come through our program come year after year ... when they’re on their feet they often want to pay it back (to the program).”
For Mitchell, Hearts and Hands has been a part of her life for more than 20 years and she has no plans to stop the class.
“There’s some evenings that I think, ‘Oh, I would rather be doing something else tonight.’ But once I get there, these women are so appreciative to be able to have this class that I come away feeling really good,” she said. “It really means a lot to them to be able to do this.”