Some soft yarn and a few simple stitches can change a life.
Christine Shively, the founder of Newport Beach based charity, Knots of Love, knows that.
Her organization collects hand made knitted and crocheted caps for cancer patients going through chemotherapy.
“It’s such a small simple idea, but it helps in such a huge positive way,” said Shively, who started up the charity in June 2007.
The organization recently launched a veterans cap drive, the goal being to donate 5,000 caps by Veterans Day in November.
“I feel confident we can make it,” Shively said.
Although they have donated to Veterans Affairs (VA) hospitals before, this drive will hopefully connect them with more centers and get them on a regular donation schedule.
Knitters and knotters (people who crochet) donating caps for the VA drive should focus on masculine yet soft caps in many different colors and sizes, Shively said.
“Veterans undergoing chemo therapy need our help and we must not forget them,” Shively said. “This program is aimed at sending more Knots of Love for Men caps to VA hospitals across the country.”
At the same time, they don’t want to lessen the amount regularly donated to the other centers.
Knots of Love donates to 316 facilities across the U.S., Mexico, Canada and overseas. The organization has donated over 79,000 caps to date, said Shively, who has made over 3,000 caps herself.
Each treatment center is on an eight-week schedule, Shively explained, which is when Knots of Love sends them a bag of 25 assorted caps. They ship about two times each week, sending out about 400 to 500 caps total in each shipment. They ship about 2,500 to 3,000 caps per month, she added.
But Knots of Love didn’t start out so big – it was originally just a small idea.
When Shively’s two sons were out of the house and she finally had some time to herself, she decided she needed a hobby, she said.
She started out making scarves and afghans for friends and family. Then one of her sons asked her to make him a cap. Her first attempt was way off scale, she said.
“The first one was hysterical,” Shively said. “It could have fit a bowling ball.”
But she kept at it and soon her one cap project turned into 20 caps. All her sons’ friends received hats and she still made more. Soon, she began to wonder what she could do with all of them.
“I couldn’t find a charity to donate them to,” Shively said. “So I started my own.”
What she did find was a huge need for caps at chemotherapy treatment centers. After saturating the local area, Shively took the organization national.
“(The charity has) grown by leaps and bounds,” Shively said, but volunteers are always needed. “The more knitters and crocheters we get, the more caps we can donate.”
There are hundreds of volunteers all over the U.S. that knit and crochet caps for the organization.
Shively has a database of all the volunteers and tracks each cap or box of caps that the volunteers send in. She then personally contacts them to thank them and let them know where their caps are being donated to.
“There are probably five new people every day,” said Shively, adding that for those new people that join, there are some that stop. “They (volunteers) come and go.”
But there are many long-term volunteers as well, she said. They consistently donate caps and many get creative with their patterns.
“I’m so glad to be part of this,” said volunteer Caroline Fish of Huntington Beach. “It’s just wonderful.”
Fish started volunteering not long after Knots of Love began and now she helps out with tagging, packing and shipping the caps every week. And she still knits caps to donate.
There are also a lot of groups, like girl scout troupes or senior citizen classes, that donate as well.
The caps don’t need to be perfect, Shively said – it’s OK if there are mistakes. Those that haven’t knitted or crocheted in a while, or ever, are still welcome to volunteer. There is a learning curve, Shively said.
And it’s all part of the process of creating a hand-made cap, she said. She has even received feedback from some chemo patients that love the caps even more by just knowing that someone put time and effort and love into it.
Volunteer Sandy Benson of Tustin has been knitting caps for Knots of Love for about two and a half years, she said. She started just after she had retired and wanted to do something to give back.
Benson hadn’t knit in about 30 years, she said, and wasn’t sure if she would remember so she started out with a very simple cap and grew from there.
Many volunteers make one cap a week or month, Shively said, everybody just does what they can. Every single cap helps, she said.
It’s a great hobby, Shively said, knitters and crocheters can sit down, relax and do the volunteer work out of the comfort of their own home.
The organization asks volunteers for adult caps for both males and females. They donate casual caps, fancy caps (often with beads or crocheted flowers), day caps and sleeper caps (which are made out of a much softer yarn). The charity offers patterns, but volunteers are allowed to use their own as long as they still use the approved yarn.
“We can’t take any kind of yarn,” Shively said. “Chemotherapy heads are super-sensitive. (The wrong kind of yarn can) irritate the skin and it’s just not comfortable.”
An approved list of yarn is included in every new volunteer packet and posted on the website.
A top item on Shively’s wish list for the organization: UPS centers that will donate the shipping when the volunteers send their caps in to Knots of Love. It wouldn’t be much for each shipping center and it could really help the volunteers, she said.
She is also hoping to get more local yarn shops to become drop off centers for the volunteers.
More donations would also be great, she added.
The charity could use some more monetary donations though, Shively said, they don’t get a lot and they don’t do a lot of fundraising. The only thing that is really keeping the organization afloat is the jewelry line, she said.
The line came about when a jewelry store in New York contacted her after she received some national attention. Shively was named by Major League Baseball and “PEOPLE” as one of 30 All-Stars Among Us and Shively represented the Angels at the 2009 All-Star Game. The jewelry store designed some pieces using the Knots of Love logo and are sold in Sears stores across the country. The organization gets royalties from every item of jewelry bought.
“That’s the only thing sustaining us,” she said.
Not a lot of monetary donations come in, she said, and it cost several thousand dollars every month to ship out all the caps the treatment centers.
Things always seem to work out though, Shively said, and the charity provides an important service.
“It’s so great to fulfill an order and know someone is going to be really happy,” Shively said. “And it brings a lot of people together for one cause.”