Linus: not just a cartoon character
A few hours before the Dec. 3 Versailles Christmas Parade, volunteers at St. John's Episcopal Church will hold a "Make a Blanket Day" for a program named after a certain cartoon character seen on television this time of year. The Project Linus-related gathering runs from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday. Organizer Mary Ann Overturf said people can bring handmade blankets and afghans made of new materials - or get a tutorial on how to make them at home. "They can come and see what we do and how we do it. We're very informal," Overturf said. The origin of Project Linus dates back to the Christmas Eve 1995 edition of Parade Magazine, an article titled "Joy To The World," and a picture of a little girl with leukemia holding a blanket. "Laura has unusual compassion for others," Charlotte Barry-Williams of Oceanside, California, says of her daughter, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1993. "I guess part of the reason is that she has experienced so much pain herself." A special "blankie" has helped Laura, 3, get through more than two years of intensive chemotherapy. She takes it to the hospital with her when she goes for treatment. When she was first diagnosed, 97 percent of her bone marrow contained cancerous cells. Although chemotherapy has helped eradicate the cancer, she has had to endure nausea, high fevers and the loss of her hair. An allergic reaction at one point caused her to lose vital signs. "She doesn't understand what cancer means," her mother says. "She's a very joyous and happy person, very curious." Her mother hopes Laura can start preschool next spring. A Denver woman, Karen Loucks, saw the photo and read the article. "She thought, 'Aha!' And she made some blankets and took them to the Rocky Mountain Children's Hospital in Denver, and they liked that so much for the kids, that she started making more and her friends started making more and then some friends of friends in different communities started making them and it just exploded," Overturf said. Since 1995, Project Linus has given more than six million handmade blankets and afghans to children who are "seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need," according to the group's website, projectlinus.org. Overturf said the Central Kentucky chapter of Project Linus was formed 15 years ago. After she joined St. John's Episcopal Church in Versailles last year, the group began meeting there. They give blankets to groups in five counties, and in Versailles, to organizations like the Woodford County Ambulance Service, the Versailles Fire Department and the Woodford County Health Department. Over 15 years, they've donated 32,000 blankets and 2,180 this year alone in Woodford, Franklin, Boyle, Fayette and Jessamine counties. More than 150 have been donated in Woodford County over the past six months, Overturf said. A sign outside at St. John's will steer people with blankets and those who'd like to make them through the courtyard into the parish hall, Overturf said. The materials and already-made blankets need to be machine-washable and dryable and appealing to a child. The group also accept financial donations. "You can imagine with 32,000 blankets, that costs money, and we're all volunteers, so any money that is given to us, I try and buy materials to kind of offset the cost to our 'blanketeers,' who are people who make blankets for us," Overturf said. The mission statement of Project Linus is two-fold: "First, provide a sense of security, warmth and comfort to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need . "Second, provide a rewarding and fun service opportunity for interested individuals and groups and local communities for the benefit of children." In other words, as a much older quote goes, generosity is its own reward.