Giving back through crafting, toys and snowfall

Giving back to the community goes on year round, but it can take an extra place in gift wrapping people’s hearts at this time of year.

The presents for others coordinated by volunteers might take the form of stitching clothes, rounding up toys or tossing snowflakes.

The Creative Crafters of the International Club of Murrells Inlet just spent its weekly meeting this past Tuesday boxing up close to 200 knitted and crocheted scarves, blankets, and children’s booties and hats.

One of the crafters’ members, Sandy Bianchi, said the group formed in 2010, building on a craft group of seniors formed previously.

“We started making fleece blankets for nursing home residents that year,” she said.

The list of recipients grew gradually to include other places, currently Grand Strand Healthcare in Myrtle Beach, the Myrtle Beach Haven shelter, Horry County Teens and Infants Shelter Home of Conway, Help 4 Kids/Backpack Buddies of Murrells Inlet, and the NHC Nursing Home, near Garden City Beach.

Bianchi said the crafters, with a core of about 10 to 15 throughout the year, sometimes draws as many as 25 people at its sessions, and everyone brings “various talents” to the team.

“We’ve developed into a nice group who gives to charity,” said Bianchi, who started knitting at age 19, before she got married and raised a family.

Making someone’s day brighter in a nursing home or shelter with a handmade article or a gift basket drives the whole effort.

“Some people don’t have families,” said Bianchi, who flexes her fingers to make scarves and blankets on her own lap.

The turnout of involvement drives the increase in the group’s output.

“More and more hear about it,” Bianchi said, “and more come at this time of year.”

The group sees what works best between genders in various age groups. Children’s blankets take a different, more juvenile theme, and with more of a sporty edge, especially for boys, whereas “darker, plaid colors work for men” and “more feminine looking” items for women, Bianchi said.

Applying their heart in art through this group, “we make great friends, and we keep friends,” she said. “It’s something special we share,” Bianchi said. “It’s a good feeling.”

When the group began, its members felt “they can’t do enough,” Bianchi said, “and now they say, ‘I want to do more.’ ”

Toying around to help

The Marines Corps Reserves’ Toys for Tots counts the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 7288 in Calabash, N.C., among its many collection points up and down the Grand Strand.

Ray Ketcham, the post commander, said an annual golf tournament and collecting toys for a drive ending this week take the “main focus” at this time of year among the local VFW’s service activities all year long.

“It’s the holidays, period,” Ketcham said. “We give back at the holidays, for Thanksgiving and Christmastime. It’s basically when you want to be with, share with, your families. Unfortunately, many people are not in that situation. That’s one of the reasons for being involved, to give them a little feeling of joy.”

Ketcham credits “the whole VFW organization,” down to the local levels nationwide, for volunteering.

In Calabash, “the men, ladies’ auxiliary, and members’ families – everybody works together to make it work,” he said.

“It’s like another function,” Ketcham said. “Each one of the three groups works very well together. … We have a bunch of hardworking individuals who want to help out.”

He brought up another project this autumn, a motorcycle ride for veterans with disabilities, which started in Wilmington, came down into Brunswick County to Calabash.

“We fed them and also and put them up in a hotel in Wilmington,” Ketcham said.

The event benefited Wounded Warrior Project, to help troops who have served from the Vietnam War to more recent deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan.

Ketcham said at the VFW in Calabash, “We’re all retired, the majority of us basically, all from the North. So we consider ourselves very fortunate that we live here, and we’re in the spirit to this.”

Such “hours of volunteer work,” he said, translate into bingo nights at the post, lunch programs, breakfasts once a month, and going to schools with presentations about Old Glory, to show youth how to fly and fold the flag, and involvement in junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs.

“We’re very involved,” said Ketcham, in his third year as commander, “and we’re using a lot of talent from these people in retirement.”

Forget the forecast

No matter what official weather predictions called for this weekend, Heartland Hospice has orchestrated snowfall in front of the Grand 14 Cinema at The Market Common in Myrtle Beach for all three nights, ending 6-8 p.m. Sunday.

Lyn Rumage, manager of business development for the agency based in Conway, serving Horry and Georgetown counties, said some volunteer elves teamed up for the snow show, for something “magical.”

“We were brainstorming about something that would be fun for people during the holidays,” she said. “Something a little bit different.”

She said having snowfall on the ground in coastal South Carolina is infrequent, and that snow and Christmastime complement each other.

“All the songs tell you there should be snow around Christmas,” Rumage said.

She counted about a dozen Heartland volunteers and staff, “on hand to make sure that snow falls” each night this weekend, and she credited personnel at theater and The Market Common and a production group for their help as well.

“It really has to be a team effort,” Rumage said, thrilled to see such a collaborative effect for “a special, wonderful event.”

Finding volunteers for this snowfall and other projects at other times reflects people’s nature “to give back to the community,” Rumage said, noting that some “just asked” to join such outreach “doing a variety of things,” such as delivering Thanksgiving meals or baking cookies for patients.

The helpers might consist of individuals with family, or those with late relatives, served by Heartland, Rumage said.

“Our volunteers do everything,” she said, “and they make sure everyone is remembered, and that everyone had something special.”

Rumage said serving two counties, “we get to know so many people through our work,” and through connections with senior centers, “to be out there with friends and neighbors in the community.”