Springfield Ladies’ blankets comfort traumatized kids

The Springfield Ladies include, from left, Muriel Wenthe, Kelly Della Chiesa, Charleen Aldworth, Marge Durand and Lucille Leckey.

Linus from Charles M. Schulz’s comic strip “Peanuts” was iconic for carrying around one of these soft, cuddly comforts, and a group of ladies in a Chandler senior community frequently make them for the same reason.

The Springfield Ladies have made thousands of blankets that they give to children and teens — and sometimes adults — to provide some comfort in times of trauma and stress.

Named after the senior-living community where they live, The Springfield Ladies make about 250 blankets — or “blankies,” as they call them — a year and have so far made 5,500 since they began this project in 1997.

Marge Durand, 83, started the blanket-making with her husband Ad’s help when they moved from Colorado that year. Ad has passed away but Marge is still busy making blankets with much assistance from her daughter, Kelly Della Chiesa, 61, who also lives in the Springfield community.

“My mom and dad started this with their own funds,” Chiesa said. “As word got out, they had some small fundraisers like a golf tournament. Then we got more people on board so we were able to do more. They go to the very neediest of needy people. The whole community donates so much. This could not happen without the whole village.”

The women use sewing machines and sew fabric with patterns they think are happy for kids, including cartoon characters and other fun things.

The blankets have been given to the Chandler and Mesa police departments to give to victims of crises and crimes as well as to kids in foster homes and children at The Love House Kids Program, a Phoenix organization that helps abused and neglected children in the community.

“It makes me feel good, but I’m glad that Kelly is here now,” Chiesa said. “I’m gonna be 84 years old. I’m slowing down. I don’t want to just give it up; Kelly has taken a big hand in this. We need more hands, younger people.”

Besides Marge and Chiesa, the main people who sew the blankets are Lucille Leckey, Muriel Wenthe, Barb Fox, Cory Rosow and Millie Funk.

While living in Colorado, Marge had been involved in a similar but larger organization called Project Linus, through which blankets are collected and distributed to children in hospitals, shelter, social service agencies and other places around the country.

“When I moved here, I thought, ‘Oh, boy, I need to do something,’” she said. “I got a little group of women and we started making blankies. We found a place to take them.”

Besides blankets, the ladies also make Christmas stockings decorated and they fill them with toys, books, cards, crayons, clay and other items for children around the Valley.

“I’ve been sewing all my life,” Marge said. “I made clothes. My mother made all of my clothes.”

Chiesa said first The Ladies find and buy fabric for the top and the color they want on the back. Then they buy batting and find yarn and the ladies pick up all the materials and sew them in their homes. It takes at least a couple of hours to sew one.

“Sometimes the blankies have little pockets and we can put a little dolly and stuffed animal,” in them, Chiesa said. “We also make knit hats. We’ve delivered a lot of those knit hats this winter.”

The hats were given to the Chandler Police Department and to churches to give to those in need in the winter.

“This is Springfield and they are so, so generous with making sure we have everything we need,” Chiesa said.

The ladies get donations of fabric and sometimes hold fundraisers. They look for fabrics that will still look good after they have been washed, Marge said.

“It’s just comfort,” she said. “It’s like a teddy bear.”

Marge has seven grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and, besides Chiesa, another daughter and son.

“Mom and Dad started this but they carried the load for a long time by themselves,” Chiesa said. “It is truly a community effort (now).”

In November the ladies plan to have an auction to raise money for supplies.

“If there’s a need, we’ll try to do what we can,” Chiesa said. “If everybody just did some little thing together, we can make a difference.”

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