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Knit and Purl–Providing community service one loop at a time

You name it, and a senior citizen can knit it: camouflage wool hats for troops in Afghanistan; lightweight and comfortable breast prosthetics for women; tiny sweaters for penguins caught in oil spills; soft, delicate caps for the newborns of northern Westchester; and more. And if you walk into the Mt. Kisco Fox Senior Center at 10 o’clock on Wednesday mornings, you’ll find between eight to 14 women sitting in a circle, hard at work knitting to help those in need.

“Knitters are the nicest people in the world,” says Liz Dieter, the recreation supervisor for senior citizens at the Fox Senior Center. “Everyone who knits was taught by someone else at one time, and someone else helped them at one time. Knitters demonstrate a wonderful example of continuing traditions and sharing their love with others. I never met a mean knitter—never, ever, ever—and I’ve been knitting for 50 years!”

What began as a group knitting for local charities has morphed into an operation that knits for those in need throughout the world. Knitting is never too far from their minds, which is how many of these community service projects began.

For example, when one woman’s grandson was deployed in Afghanistan, he asked her to knit him a hat for the cold nights. When she innocently asked for suggestions on a hat pattern, everyone wanted to participate. The women knit warm, fire-proof, wool hats for the entire unit.

Knitting breast prosthetics also began with one woman’s idea. Approximately one year ago, a knitter walked in with an article she read about knitted prosthetics. The article explained that women who need prosthetics are overjoyed when they receive free knitted ones. Because traditional breast prosthetics are usually expensive, heavy, and uncomfortable, women hate wearing them. But, these knitted prosthetics are soft, comfortable, and look real. The knitters were inspired, and those who could, began knitting prosthetics for Northern Westchester Hospital’s Cancer Treatment and Wellness Center.

“The people who receive these prosthetics tell us that it has made them feel so good—it’s almost been life changing,” Dieter shares. “Many have carried around a 10-pound prosthetic that was heavy and sweaty and horrible, and now they have this pretty thing that makes them feel beautiful. These women have been moved to give us donations. I’ve received the most beautiful notes. It’s really very touching, and very, very humbling. One day of knitting does so much for a person’s life.”

Even animals benefit. When Dieter’s friend’s daughter sent her an article about knitted sweaters for penguins sent to Australia’s Phillip Island Wildlife Clinic after oil spills, she knew the group would jump right in. These tiny sweaters prevent oiled penguins from attempting to clean the toxic oil from their feathers, which, if consumed, can kill them. This behavior also damages a penguin’s feathers, exposing their skin to the cold. An easy project for a new knitter to accomplish, the seniors happily pitched in, keeping these penguins safe until they were cleaned.

When they’re not knitting on a Wednesday morning, they’re taking their hobby out into the community.

MaryEllen Matts, a retired instructional assistant at Mt. Kisco Elementary, spent several years running a knitting club for fourth and fifth graders after school. But when Matts’s contact moved to Fox Lane High School, she followed, bringing her love of knitting to juniors and seniors who needed some stress relief. She fostered more of a social environment, creating a safe place for them to talk while learning a craft they can continue to hone throughout college and adulthood.

“We talked about Broadway shows in the city and what they were watching on TV,” Matts explains. “They shared their dreams, what colleges they applied to, and what they wanted to study. It was chatty and relaxing. Knitting reduces your blood pressure and gives you a great feeling of satisfaction. It really has a calming effect.”

There are several other community outreach projects, many around the holidays. Their annual craft fair, which is held in November at Mt. Kisco Public Library, raises money to fund a variety of different projects, including a high school scholarship and local charity events.

“Whatever hats and other items that we don’t sell at the craft sale, are donated to different churches who host Midnight Runs or sent to the Bedford Hills Correctional Facility,” Dieter explains. “Every year the prison provides items for the children to shop for their parents and the mothers shop for the kids. Some of our craft items become gifts for these families.”


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