HUDSON — Since its inception in 2010, a small library knitting group has crafted more than 3,600 items for donation to local and national charities. Yet while Knitters for Charity maintains a table at the Hudson Regional Library that overflows with hats, scarves, toys, pillows, mittens, baby booties, quilts and afghans, the members always take the time to do a little quality control.
"We have to make sure these hats are soft enough," said Sylvia Barry as she ran her fingers over the items at a recent meeting of Knitters for Charity. "They're for cancer patients."
This particular craft has special meaning for Barry, 77, who in 2009 created her first "chemo cap" for her daughter Carrie Tucker, who suffered from pancreatic cancer.
"She never got the chance to wear it," she said, her voice soft. "She passed away before I could give it to her."
Now as a member of Knitters for Charity, Barry and other knitters have made nearly 550 chemo caps for Florida Cancer Center Specialists, Pasco-Hernando Oncology, Florida Cancer Center Affiliates, Guardian Ad Litem of Pasco and Florida Cancer Center-Bayonet Point.
"Whenever I make a cap," Barry says, "I think about my daughter."
Giving is the whole idea behind Knitters for Charity, which former Pasco resident B.J. Tillman started with a single philanthropic effort in mind.
"We knitted for the military," said founding member Jerrie Hoge, 67. "B.J. has several family members in the military, and we wanted to make comfortable helmet liners for the troops."
Tillman remains part of the club but is less active now because of health problems.
Eventually, according to Hoge, the armed forces shifted their methods of manufacturing these liners, thus eliminating their need for the knitters' donations. Yet the work of this group, which has swelled from eight to about 40 members in less than two years, was far from done.
"The ladies are always coming in and telling us about new groups that we need to help," said Hoge, who is now the group administrator. "There is so much heart in this group."
Aside from the chemo caps, the group has created thousands of scarves, lap robes, toys, preemie caps and baby layette items. Recipients include virtually all the area's most prominent social agencies and hospitals such as IBC Street Project for the homeless, the domestic violence shelter Reach, the Women's Resource Center, Fivay Homeless Teens, Mary's House Drug Rehab, the ARC center for developmental disabilities, HPH Hospice, Moffitt Cancer Center, the Salvation Army Domestic Violence Shelter and Shriners' Children's Hospital.
Subscribing to the edict that charity begins at home, the group makes toys for the Hudson Library Children's Corner, and they stitched a piano cover for a grand piano donated to the library system. Beyond the Tampa Bay area, the group has created and given items to national and international organizations that include Nicaragua Newborns in Crisis, the Hurricane Sandy victims in New Jersey and Alaska's Healing Hearts.
"Knitting is a great way to be creative and relax," said knitter Louise Garone of New Port Richey. "And when you knit for charity, you make somebody happy."
In terms of experience and creative skills, each member brings something unique to the knitting table. Joan Guarinello is a retired haute couture fashion designer who worked with companies such as Calvin Klein and Gloria Vanderbilt; Jennifer Baker is an employee at Jo-Ann Fabrics. Ann Mitchell, now retired, once researched the design of postage stamps at the U.S. Postal Service in Washington, D.C.
Professionals in the helping and healing arts are also represented: Donna Novelli is manager of the Early Memory Loss Program at CARES in Hudson, and Margarette Hines is an 84-year-old retired Air Force nurse and chiropractor who still holds two part-time jobs in addition to her ongoing knitting, weaving and spinning projects.
"As a child I crocheted with my grandma," said Hines. "I feel like I'm continuing her work."
Beyond their desire to help others, the Knitters for Charity, who sometimes meet at members' houses and for lunch at Hudson's Bluewater Bistro after every meeting, say they are bound also by friendship and community.
"We've become like a family," said Hoge.
After losing her daughter and several other family members in recent years, Barry says the group has given her a new purpose.
"When my world had fallen apart," she said, "this group made a whole new life for me."