Minneapolis, MN -- Natural disasters bring destruction, heartbreaking loss, and a long recovery period for victims. In the aftermath, disasters also bring people together from various backgrounds to support others in need. The implementation of Project Linus in Granite Falls is just one of many such examples of how volunteerism crosses denominations and connects various organizations in order to achieve a common goal.
The day after the tornado, St. Andrews Catholic Church in Granite Falls opened the doors of its parish center for the establishment of a clothing distribution center. Bob Forbes, a disaster coordinator with Adventist Disaster Response and a Seventh Day Adventist pastor from Wadena, helped set up the center and distribute two to three tons of clothing to tornado victims. Granite Falls resident Jammie Balfany joined in the effort to locate and establish the clothing drop-off at the parish center, and both she and Forbes were on hand at the church to help distribute the armloads of blankets carried in by volunteers from yet another organization.
When Balfany saw the blankets lovingly stitched for Project Linus, with attached tags saying who made them and where they were from, she knew delivery of the blankets to the children they were intended for required personal attention.
Just a few days earlier, hours before the tornado slammed through Granite Falls, Carol Babbitt, coordinator of the Twin Cities chapter of Project Linus, had dropped off her last handmade quilts and blankets to Twin Cities hospitals. When she learned about the tornado, and how many children could have been affected, she immediately thought blankets would be needed, but she didn't have any left.
Babbitt e-mailed a call for help to Project Linus coordinators around the country and within a few days she received more than 150 blankets. (The number has since grown to 300.) She loaded them into her car and delivered them to Granite Falls just four days after the storm. At the first drop-off site, she worried about whether people would understand the mission of Project Linus, but when she brought a load into the St. Andrews Parish Center she found someone who did.
Project Linus was started by Karen Loucks of Denver, Col., in 1995, originally to provide handmade security blankets to pediatric cancer patients. Loucks enlisted friends in her homemade blanket project and ended up with a hundred blankets that were donated to Denver's Rocky Mountain Children's Cancer Center, and from there the idea spread.
In the last five years, the organization has grown to over 400 chapters and the group has donated almost a quarter of a million handmade blankets to seriously ill or traumatized children. The organization's name comes from Charles Schultz's character Linus, who defined the term security blanket.
"We look at it as a way to give a child a hug," explained Babbitt. "A blanket to children means something for them to hang on to."
The Project Linus mission was understood by Jammie Balfany in Granite Falls. She began gathering the names of all the children affected by the tornado. In the meantime, another concerned individual brought in 75 Beanie Babies. It was decided to match a blanket and a Beanie Baby, or other donated toy, for each of the 119 children, from infants through sixth grade, who suffered the loss of their home or belongings. Balfany, with the help of friend Mary Jo Skjefte, has delivered 20 blankets so far, and hopes to deliver the rest by the end of the week, after her van is repaired.
"The kids just loved them and want to contact the people who made them to thank them," said Balfany. "What I'm doing is nothing compared to the time the people who made those blankets spent on them so a child could have one."
Recovery from a disaster often takes the combined efforts of federal, state, local and voluntary agencies, and of people like Babbitt and...