- Last Updated: 09 December 2016 09 December 2016
The following post was written by Sonia Sotomayor Elementary Principal Tracy Vik, co-founder of Project Warm Up.
I am sitting in my office at school with stacks of fleece to my left and stacks of fleece to my right. I have to say, it is a pretty amazing sight. I can’t seem to stop looking at a handwritten note that was delivered to me this morning by one of my kindergarten students, Deacon. He said he wanted to give it to me for Project Warm-Up. Tucked inside were 12 crisp one dollar bills. As my eyes well-up with tears, he said that his grandpa had given it to him to do something nice for someone else. His grandpa told him that what he wanted as a present from his grandchildren was the story of how they used the money to help others. Deacon wanted me to use it to buy a blanket for a child. As the others in the school office looked on, they were all moved to tears at the graciousness of this young little man. What an incredible gift and important life lesson his grandpa had shared with him!
Back in 2006 when Kaitlin and I came up with the idea to make fleece tie blankets for some of the Sioux Falls School District students who had been identified as homeless, we never imagined what a simple thought could turn into. We had a goal of making 100 blankets that we could give as gifts during the holidays to children in need. We hoped it would provide them with some warmth physically and hopefully, emotionally as well.
I never could have imagined that one day I would be preparing for our 11th Annual Project Warm-Up!
Over the past 10 years, people from all over the Sioux Empire and beyond have rallied together, hosting blanket making parties at their schools, homes, churches, community centers and other fun places. Through the generosity of so many, we have been able to distribute over 15,000 blankets to children and families in need around Sioux Falls and beyond.
Each December, we deliver blankets to every school in the Sioux Falls School District for distribution to their children who may be homeless or in poverty, fighting an illness, facing the loss of a parent, or those who just might benefit from gift of a new blanket to wrap themselves up in when times are tough. We are also able to distribute blankets to the Division of Social Services, Children’s Inn, St Francis House and other local agencies. Edison Middle School students and staff make blankets for every child at the Heartland House as well as every child in our elementary English Immersion Program at Jane Addams. Our high schools often challenge each other to see which school can make the most blankets! What a wonderful competition to have. Many middle and elementary schools host blanket making parties with their students and staff, teaching the children that no matter how young you are, you have the power to make a difference in the lives of others.
Blanket making and distributing doesn’t just happen in December any more. We accept the blankets year round and I am glad we do!
In 2013 we partnered with Habitat for Humanity and are able to give a new fleece blanket to every member of the family at their new home dedication. I have no words to explain what it is like to watch these families receive the keys to their new home. A home that has been made possible by many hours of hard work of their own as well as countless volunteers. These home dedications have become some of my very favorite events, due to the endless much pride and joy.
On June 17th, 2014, Canton, SD was hit with a major summer thunderstorm that flooded the town and left many families stranded while their homes were a total ruin. We had blankets on hand and were able to share them.
On May 10, 2015, we were just starting Mother’s Day Dinner when I received a text, “Do you happen to have any blankets on hand?”. Gail Swenson, who had volunteered every year for Project Warm-Up, was the superintendent in Tripp-Delmont. That morning, much of Delmont had been destroyed by a tornado. She had many students and staff members who lost all of their belongings. We were able to take 96 blankets to Delmont that evening.
We have been fortunate to be able to send blankets to Milk’s Camp, Soldier Creek, and Pine Ridge throughout the years. We have also been fortunate to receive blankets from Highmore-Harold, Baltic, Canton, West Central, Lennox, Tea, Brandon and other schools around the state. We recently received a very large donation of fleece from In-Weave Fabrics in Hawarden, IA! The generosity of others is overwhelming in the very best sense of the word.
In June of 2015, I read about a sweet little 2-year-old named Haddley who had just been diagnosed with Aplastic Anemia I H8. I didn’t know what it was, but I knew it wasn’t good. We decided that Haddley could use a blanket and happened to have a cute little puppy blanket on hand. I delivered it to a fundraiser they were having for her in Canton. I got to hug her amazing mom, Amy Jo, buy a couple of t-shirts and a plate of cookies and went on my way. I followed Haddley’s story on Facebook. Amy Jo posted a lot of pictures and it was so fun to see Haddley with her puppy blanket with her dollies, snuggled in bed, in her wagon and more. Her journey was not easy, but she was a courageous little fighter until the very end. Precious Haddley passed away one day before her third birthday. Since then, Project Warm-Up and Hugs 4 Haddley have teamed up. In honor of her daughter, Amy Jo has been delivering blankets to a variety of children and adults in hospitals in Sioux Falls and Canton. She has become a great friend and wonderful blessing in my life. And to think, it all started with a blanket.
One day a parent from my school, Heidi, posted that she was looking for donations of fleece and blankets. She said that a few months prior, her sister met a teacher who was headed to Alaska to teach in a village where almost all of the students lived in poverty. Heidi and her sister decided that they wanted to do something nice for those students around the holidays and decided warm blankets would be a great idea. I messaged Heidi to say that Project Warm-Up would supply the blankets if she could provide the shipping and a deal was made!! Delta airlines quoted a fee of $500 to ship the totes of blankets to Alaska, but after hearing where they were going and why, Delta waived the fee!! The blankets were on their way!
Fast forward three weeks later…I received an email from my friend Bonnie Mehlbrech who taught at Roosevelt HS for many years (I mean MANY), and had volunteered at Project Warm-Up for the past nine years. Bonnie retired last May and decided she was going to teach in a little village in Alaska. Below is her email to me:
“We got a huge delivery of fleece blankets delivered for our kids today. Laura Anthony, ran into Tricia Douglas last summer in Sioux Falls. Laura is our sped teacher here, but also has a house in Sioux Falls. Anyway, are those blankets from Project Warm-Up??? They are awesome and I don't think you can even imagine how much they will mean to our kids!!! “
Now how’s that for some great karma?? Bonnie volunteers for Project Warm-Up in SF for years, moves to Nite Mute, AK and ends up receiving a shipment of blankets for her students from Project Warm-Up and she didn’t know anything about it?? Unbelievable!
On November 22nd, John Harris Elementary hosted their annual blanket making party and delivered 152 brightly colored beauties to our school that afternoon.
Over the Thanksgiving break, I received word that one of my 1st grade students lost his mother suddenly. The Monday after break, his grandmother brought him and his 2-year-old and 4-year-old sisters to school. I knew these wee ones could use a new fleece blanket to call his/her own and I just happened to have new blankets on hand!
The first blanket I pulled out of the bag was a My Little Pony print and the 4-year-old girl squealed with delight (and I am not exaggerating when I say she “squealed”!!). The 2-year-old had been clutching a giraffe the entire time and guess what we found? A pink blanket with giraffes on it!! It was the first time she smiled! We looked and looked and looked for a boy blanket (he wasn’t in to football, soccer, baseball, camo…) and finally I spotted a Superman blanket. The little boy said, “Oh my goodness! How did you know that Superman is my favorite??” At that time, I needed to stop and wipe my eyes. My heart was full. All three kids were already wrapped up in their blankets and trying to walk down the hall. The 4-year-old said she was a Pony Princess. And certainly, she was. I shared with the kids that some very special people made the blankets just for them and that every time they wrapped themselves up in them, to know that it was just like getting a big hug.
A pretty special teacher sent me the following email a few weeks back and gave me permission to share it:
I just wanted to tell you a little story about Project Warm Up... real quick. So, you might know that my youngest daughter, used to struggle a bit with her behaviors. Well, last year she brought home one of the Project Warm Up blankets at Christmas time. It was given to her in her classroom.
To be honest, at first I thought to myself, "Oh shoot! Those blankets are supposed to be for economically disadvantaged families! She shouldn't have one of those! Other people need them more!"
But then I listened to her talk about how much she loved the pattern, and how it was so soft and warm... And it made her feel safe to wrap up in it... Oh my goodness. After I stopped bawling, I realized that these blankets are so, so much more than physical warmth. My daughter knew that someone was thinking of her when he/she made this blanket. It was the perfect pink owl pattern. I don't know how the blanket was presented to her, but it still makes her feel like a princess when she wraps up in it! Sure, it keeps her warm at night, but it also gives her security and peace in her heart.
Keep up the good work. Even if people tell you that there are enough blankets now, you tell them to go make another one, because you never know who will receive that blanket! It could mean everything to them at just the right time! Love you!
I could go on, but I think you get the point. A blanket is not just a provider of physical warmth. It can do so very much more than that.
I would like to say THANK YOU to all who have made a blanket, who have donated fleece, funds, or time, who have delivered blankets, who have given us names of those who need a blanket, who have sent positive vibes to those who are receiving a blanket.
I cannot even begin to express my gratitude in words- and those of you who know me well know that I am not often at a loss of words, but I am.
Thank you for the opportunity to share some love and care with others through the gift of a new blanket. Those that have had the pleasure of delivering a blanket to someone, know that they are actually the ones that are receiving the gift.
Thank you for your support of Project Warm-Up these past ten years.