If you’ve been keeping tabs on my monthly features of charities and nonprofits, you may have noticed a common theme: I like grassroots. I like community engagement. I like the feeling of doing something hands-on and tangible to help others and make the world a warmer, kinder place. This month’s spotlight on Knit-a-square is very much in keeping with that ideal, and offers another simple yet wonderful way to make a difference–all you need is some yarn, a pair of knitting needles or a crochet hook, and a whole lot of heart.
Keeping the Cold at Bay
Knit-a-square (KAS) was founded by aunt-and-niece duo Ronda Lowrie and Sandy McDonald. Ronda, who had been living in South Africa since 1984, saw firsthand the number of children in need of basic necessities like blankets and hats to keep warm. The children served by KAS are orphaned or otherwise vulnerable youths, some of them sleeping in the streets, many having lost parents to the HIV/AIDS epidemic or suffering from the disease themselves. Unfortunately, their plight is not unusual; in fact, according to KAS, “more than a quarter of all African youths now qualify as orphaned” (source). And this leaves many of them with limited resources, including a lack of shelter and simple means to keep the cold at bay.
Knit-a-square, a registered non-profit organization in South Africa, is working to change that. It encourages the participation of individuals worldwide to knit or crochet hats, blanket squares, hand warmers, and dolls and stuffed animals. Their website offers simple knit and crochet patterns as well as instructions for making, packaging, and shipping your donations to the headquarters in South Africa. This is only the first step, however. Once the donations arrive, they are unpacked and sorted, and the squares are distributed to local sewing groups–many of them composed of gogos, or grandmothers, in the area–to be sewn into blankets (source). It takes just thirty-five 8” by 8” squares to make one blanket, and once the blankets have been assembled, they are given to children in need to serve as both a practical necessity and a gesture of love–two things which these children are so often in need of.
A Worldwide Reach
Since KAS’s efforts began in 2008, it has grown into a worldwide volunteer movement. Handcrafted squares from all over the globe–Croatia to Canada, Singapore to South Africa, the United Kingdom to the United States–are mixed and matched into beautiful patchwork blankets. Well over a million squares have been turned into tens of thousands of blankets over the years (source), and they, along with the other items requested by KAS, are used to brighten and warm the lives of children–and to give them something of their own to keep.
To learn more about KAS, you can visit their website, which offers both information and plenty of resources for those looking to join their efforts. Learn more about the organization, or about the children it serves. If your fingers are itching to pull out your yarn bag and contribute to the movement, you can also view the guidelines for squares; or, if you’re not one for handicrafts, you can support them with a monetary donation. Any general questions you may have might be answered in the FAQs; and for those curious about where the squares come from, the volunteers also keep careful records of the incoming blanket square donations, which are compiled into monthly lists. (Check out February 2018 for a familiar name…)
Knit-a-square is just the kind of organization I love: founded on such a straightforward, marvelous concept that all it took was a little attention for the movement to far outgrow its humble beginnings and become a positive force of good in the world. It demonstrates the power of volunteerism and grassroots efforts. And above all, it shows how the simplest of gestures can warm the hearts and lives of others–both literally and figuratively.