Operation Hugs and Stitches

Every year, my husband and I set a goal: the coming year will be better than the year before. I have this fear, you see, of getting stuck in a rut, of perpetually struggling in this life while living it on pause. I’m not sure where this fear comes from. I suspect it has something to do with my previous marriage. That’s my theory, anyway.

This year has been an incredible year for my mister, Emily, and me. The love, kindness, and acceptance we have been shown – not just by those in our everyday lives, but also by total strangers – has been, in a word, breathtaking. I’ve long since held the belief that kindness, love, and compassion for one another is an important rule to live by, and to feel all of those things important to me ricochet off the universe and land right back on us further cements in my mind that these really should be virtues that transcend into a way of life. Those three things – love, kindness, and acceptance – really can change lives.

We struggled with trying to figure out how we could pay love forward, particularly during the holiday season when the universe laughs as it piles on unexpected bills, unrealistic expectations, and inconvenient truths, leaving people panicked and stressed while scrambling to maybe just survive the season, much less actually enjoy it. And finding the meaning of the holiday in all of that stress? Sometimes that is mission impossible.

Inspiration came when one of my oldest friends, Jen, shared a link on her Facebook wall. The link led me to this incredible movement, Helping Hands, where ordinary people posted their holiday needs and other ordinary people fulfilled them. It was the brainchild of Momastery, an incredibly honest blog filled with nuggets of wisdom and inspiration. I read each of the posted needs, wishing I could fulfill so many of them.

It hit me, the thing I could do to help other families.

I talked to Emily and asked what she thought about my idea. She was thrilled, and then went on to help me to expand on the original idea and that is when she came up with the name Operation Hugs and Stitches.

Earlier this year, my oldest friend, Robin, made Emily a weighted blanket. This blanket is so special to us, mostly because it was made by Robin while she was away from work, kicking cancer’s ass, but also because the blanket has brought Emily such relief from the issues she has had with sleep and when her senses are overwhelmed. Therapist and doctors recommend the use of weighted blankets for those on the autism spectrum because it is believed the blankets provide deep pressure input that their bodies crave. They are often prescribed, but rarely covered by insurance companies. And they can be spendy. When we first researched a weighted blanket for Emily, a full-size blanket averaged at $379.

I can sew. Emily loves crafting with me. We decided to make weighted blankets for families that otherwise may not be able to afford them, or at least afford them comfortably. We found 16 families to make blankets for, 21 blankets in all. I don’t know who these families voted for, what religion they adhere to, or what their occupations are. I can tell you that they are spectrum families that have kiddos ranging from non-verbal to severely autistic to the higher end of the spectrum. They live in different states. Some are single parents. Some are military families. They can all empathize with each other on how difficult it is to know there is a tool out there that can help their children, but know the feeling of not being able to afford it. For a parent, that is one of the worst feelings in the world. I’ve felt it. I’m sure to one extent or another; you have felt it, too.

When we told our friends about our plan for Operation Hugs and Stitches, they donated bags of material and scrap material. Another friend offered me the use of her sewing machine. I placed ads on Freecycle and the response was great. Today, I received a box full of fuzzy green material from someone in Ohio. I received an e-mail telling me to expect a box of material coming from Texas. These are people I don’t know, but who want to contribute in whatever way they can.

Emily has been busy designing blankets (and a line of zombie rag dolls she wants to try to sell to save for a camcorder and laptop – moviemaking is her latest obsession) and we came up with a pretty brilliant idea (if I do say so). Even after sending boxes of Mardi Gras beads to sick children in different parts of the  country, donating some to local organizations, and putting others away in her hope chest as keepsakes, we still have a lot of Mardi Gras beads from Emily Gras. Instead of using poly pellets for the weight part of the weighted blankets (on average 4 pounds), we are going to use the remaining beads from Emily Gras, giving everyone who receives a blanket a bit of one of the most perfect days we could have ever imagined. When we run out of those beads, we will get more, giving others, unknown to them, a bit of New Orleans, Mardi Gras, and the spirit of the city and the people that live here.

We are incorporating the making of the blankets into our homeschool curriculum, utilizing the math, geography, and skills involved in creating something out of nothing, sending them to different parts of the country, and every inch of fabric being essential to the final product.

It seems like such a little thing, making these blankets for those who will really benefit from them. The feelings we have for doing something for someone else, the memories we are making together, and knowing that our simple act of kindness will make ripples for others – you can’t buy that, not anywhere.

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