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Responding to Tragedies with Heartfelt Handmade Donations

Crochet Concupiscence - Impassioned About the Art of Crochetby Kathryn Vercillo

Responding to Tragedies with Heartfelt Handmade Donations by Kathryn VercilloPhoto credit: Allison Stillwell / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

It happened after Hurricane Sandy. It happened after the Newtown School shootings. It happened after the Boston Marathon bombing. It will happen again after the next extremely difficult event that impacts a community in a tragic way. Crocheters (along with knitters and other crafters) immediately respond by banding together to create and send handmade items to the victims and families of the victims. It may seem like a simple act but this continuous response to tragedy from our generous community has many motivations behind it and many benefits that ripple through the world.

Why We Crochet in the Face of Tragedy

When something terrible happens that frightens all of us who read about it in the news there’s an immediate urge to help somehow. Why do crocheters turn to their craft in the wake of these disasters? There are many reasons:

  • We do this because it is a way that we can contribute. We can’t all send money to help the victims of a tragedy. We can’t all fly to every disaster and give hands-on help to those in need. But we can offer handmade blankets, socks, and hats to those who have been displaced or harmed and need new items.
  • We do this because it offers comfort to others in their time of need. Sometimes the items that we send to the victims of a tragedy aren’t practical or “necessary” but they offer comfort. Blankets, toys and prayer shawls all let the victims of emergencies know that there are others out there who care, who are thinking of them, who want to help. If you’ve ever been the recipient of a handmade item in a time of need then you know the value of this gift.
  • We do this because it calms us down. Many people are personally hugely emotionally affected by the disasters in the world. It is terrifying to think that a storm could sweep through and take away our homes. It is horrifying to think that we could send our child to school and have them not return home. We don’t know what to do with these feelings but crochet helps. This calming, meditative, healing craft reduces our anxiety. The fact that we can craft for others in need helps us feel more relaxed even in the face of these horrors.

Restoring Balance to the World

There is also something a little bit more magical at work when we crochet as a mass reaction to a big tragedy. It is hard to explain exactly why or how but when something negative happens it helps to balance it out with positive actions. Maybe you believe in an exchange of energy in the universe. Or maybe you have simply seen how responding to a negative situation with a positive, hopeful attitude is immensely powerful and truly creates change. Whatever the reason, generous actions like crocheting for victims visibly restores a sense of balance to the world. We all want to be hopeful. We all want to believe in human goodness. We don’t always know what to do when something shakes our faith in that but we can help restore that faith by acting good ourselves. Donating a lovingly handmade item to a person in need is that type of act of goodness.

How You Can Craft Through the Next Disaster

Next time that you hear about something devastating happening somewhere and you want to help, here’s what you can do:

  • First find out if there are any handmade items that are needed and are already being accepted by existing organizations. For example, when a natural disaster causes homelessness there is often a need for warm blankets and hats, which are frequently accepted by local shelters.
  • Check with your social networks and the crochet bloggers to see if groups are forming to send handmade donations. These groups really do form quickly in the vacuum after any rough event. Check Facebook, Twitter and Ravelry to see what people are saying. Ask on those sites if anyone’s organizing anything.
  • Consider forming your own group to send donations. If no groups have formed but you get a good response on social media from people who want to help then you can work together to organize donations. Check out FreshStitches’ article about the response to the Newtown Shootings to see one example of how some crafters came together to get toys to victims.
  • Ask yourself what you would want to receive if you were going through the tragedy yourself. Would you want a stuffed crochet toy for your child? Would you want a comforting lapghan? Would you like to be inspired by crochet art? You can make any item that you think someone might need and then find a home for it. You only need to send one item to one person to make a difference in their life as well as in your own emotional response to the events. When you have an item you can use social media or contact local organizations to find a family for the donation.

Crochet donations do more than you might think following a tragedy. Be a part of that positive reaction!

About the Author
Kathryn VercilloKathryn Vercillo blogs about all things crochet, from fashion to news, art, and CALs at Crochet Concupiscence. You can learn more about her new book, Crochet Saved My Life, at crochetsavedmylife.com.

Article © Kathryn Vercillo. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to “Responding to Tragedies with Heartfelt Handmade Donations”

  1. Emily says:

    I could not disagree more with this article. Post-natural disaster, what is needed is money. I am an Episcopal priest who works in the OKC metro area, and what I most needed to respond to the needs of my congregation was money. The distribution of handmade goods takes up time and energy of some already overworked volunteers and staff person. Here are some of the needs I encountered, none of which could have been met by a handmade gift, no matter how lovely or thoughtful: I replaced someone’s dentures, which were knocked out into toxic floodwaters. People with no cars needed to rely on others for transportation, and so I gave gas cards so they could reimburse those friends and family. I helped with rental deposits and hotel stays and medical bills.

    People often feel money is impersonal gift. In the lives of the families I helped, it made all the difference in the world.

    • Thanks for your thoughtful response. I agree that money is a terrific thing to give in the wake of a tragedy since it helps provide the much-needed things that are priorities at that time. However, there are many, many people who would like to give something after a tragedy and they simply do not have any extra cash to spare. They may, however, have time and some leftover yarn to make an item that can be appreciated by a recipient.

      • Emily Schnabl says:

        Kathryn,

        Thanks for your thoughtful replies on this topic. I think there’s a real difference between local tragedy and big disaster. In a big disaster, the best thing that you can do is give money. Locally, a gift of a handmade item may in fact be cherished and loved. When my church was giving prayer shawls to people dealing with long term illnesses, I know they were appreciated. But in a disaster, the less stuff the volunteers and relief staff have to move around, the better.

        One thing I would like to mention too, is that when a national disaster happens, it’s not necessarily always a disaster you can help with. And that’s ok. There are lots of everyday disasters that take place on your block and in your own community. Those families need your help too, and that’s where a crafting skill might be greatly appreciated.

        Again, thanks for taking the time to reply to our responses.

      • Emily Schnabl says:

        I forgot to add, there was great discussion and further points raised about this article over at the Crochetvolution Facebook page. https://www.facebook.com/Crochetvolution

  2. KellieT says:

    After giving this some serious thought after the Newtown tragedy (in which I felt compelled to do *something*), I realized that were I to be in a position where I’d suffered from a major disaster or tragedy the LAST thing I’d want is one more piece of ‘something’ to keep up with.

    I believe, with all honesty, (and I say this as a knitter, crocheter, spinner, dyer and weaver) that were I to be gifted with a handmade whatever from a total stranger in the midst of tragedy that it would be deposited directly into the nearest trashcan. Not because I’m a horrible person who devalues the time and skill needed or the intent behind it, but because at that moment, in the middle of disaster and tragedy I am thinking of 3 things, finding shelter, finding food, and keeping my family with me. I do not need or want a meaningless object cluttering up my peripheral thoughts. In fact, it would likely cause much more stress than it was meant to cure.

    The reason we all have the urge to knit or crochet or otherwise send handmade stuff to those suffering is to make ourselves feel better. That’s the real reason we want to do it. But I urge everyone very strongly to seriously think about this motivation. It’s selfish and is quite possibly creating more burden for those whose lives are already in chaos.

    What they need and want most is MONEY. Cold, hard, cash. If you can’t afford to donate money donate blood, or time volunteering with the Red Cross or other applicable organization. Volunteering is absolutely free and does a much greater good than hand making something with the potential to cause more stress on those already stressed beyond belief.

    Just think, please, before you jump to rescue those with yarn and hooks. Don’t burden them further in your rush to feel as if you’ve done good for them.

    • I’m appreciating the comments on this article because they are definitely different from what my experience has been. I have spoken directly with people who received handmade donations after a tragedy and who treasured those items then and for years to come.

      That said, I can totally understand that some people might not feel this way, especially in the days immediately following the disaster.

      I think that there’s definitely truth to the fact that we crochet after a disaster in part because it helps us feel better. I don’t necessarily think that is a bad thing. I think that when bad things happen we need to restore positive energy to our world, so even if it’s done in part to help us relax and to make us feel like we contributed something that’s not necessarily a negative.

      These comments are definitely giving me food for thought, though, and I’m hoping to refine my own perspective on the topic as I think about it more!

  3. Jane says:

    I’ve lived and served in areas scourged by wildfires; with due respect, Emily is correct. A monetary donation does not have to be large to be helpful– every single dollar makes a difference. Someone who has been able to accumulate a stash of yarn or fabric, can likely come up with a dollar. And truthfully, while handmade goods may well be greatly appreciated down the road, the time and effort it takes volunteers to receive, sort, and distribute items like that is simply not a good use of resources in the crush to provide for the most critical needs in the aftermath of a disaster. Instead of sending an item, donate the money you’d have spent on shipping.

    Another idea that we’ve talked about on the Facebook page: If someone wants to put her/his skills to use, a better idea would be to raffle off a lovely handmade item, or get together with skilled friends/neighbors and hold a sale, with proceeds going toward the relief effort.

    • Thanks for the feedback. As mentioned in my responses to the other two comments here, I hadn’t thought of it this way. I maintain that some people don’t have extra money, even if they do have a yarn stash (since the stash can come from many places) but I do like the idea of raffling off items to collect money and then sending that money. That’s a great option!

  4. Thanks so much to the people who left comments here. It gave me a great opportunity to think more about my perspective and to re-assess what I’ve been saying about crafting after a tragedy.

    I’ve revised my thoughts and have a post over at http://www.crochetconcupiscence.com/2013/09/if-and-how-we-should-respond-to-tragedies-with-handmade-goods/ about the topic.

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