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Fighting cold, one blanket at a time

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By Alexis Lewis

As temperatures turn frigid and more snow continues to fall, health and safety are growing concerns for those affected by homelessness, who are often at risk of being exposed to harsh winter weather. One Yellow Springs woman, however, is working to bring some warmth to those who need it by creating and donating hundreds of blankets.

The effort is being led by villager Diana Castellano, a registered nurse who retired from Springfield Regional Hospital. She told the News that, last October, she noticed a man sleeping on a bench in extreme temperatures as she was traveling along the bike trail. Contemplating how to help, she abandoned her bike and gave the man a blanket she retrieved from her car.

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“I can’t imagine having to live like that,” she said, adding that the experience shook her. She asked herself how she could help more people who are experiencing homelessness with no way to keep warm.

Since the October encounter, Castellano has contacted a number of agencies that provide aid to underserved populations and has begun sewing her own blankets to be given to those agencies.

The blankets are often made of donated fabric and materials.

Castellano learned to sew the way many young people do — in a high school home economics class — but launched herself more fully into the skill as a young adult, later making clothes and stuffed toys for her children. Now combining her love of sewing and growing concerns regarding homelessness, Castellano hopes that the new project will be impactful.

“There are a lot of underserved, poverty-stricken people who need our help,” she said.

Villager Diana Castellano holds a hand-sewn blanket that she’ll soon donate to a community aid organization. Since October 2021, Castellano has made or mended and donated nearly 300 blankets with the support of a Blanket Fund, established last year at the YS United Methodist Church. (Photo by Lauren “Chuck” Shows)

Last year, Castellano donated 170 blankets to local agencies in the span of three months. In the first two months of 2022 alone, she has donated more than 100 blankets to organizations like Gospel Mission and Project Woman. But how does she achieve these numbers?

Castellano said that the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church, where she is a member, has created a Blanket Fund. All money donated to the Blanket Fund is used to purchase fabric kits, and one kit can usually make a double-layer blanket with different designs on both sides. If there is a time-sensitive need or request from an organization and there are no extra funds from the church, Castellano said she will purchase blankets herself.

Donations of gently used blankets are also welcome at the church, even if they need repairs. Other members of the church and community volunteers are also involved in crafting and mending the blankets, though Castellano “does the bulk of the sewing,” averaging about 60% of the blankets and repairs.

Among the organizations that have received handmade and mended blankets is Rocking Horse Community Health Center, which offers health and wellness services to the community.

Castellano highlighted that Rocking Horse also helps parents obtain necessary resources like diapers, formula, clothing and blankets for their babies and growing children.

“Some moms just don’t have blankets,” Castellano said.

In November 2021, the church’s Blanket Fund was able to donate 30 blankets to SAFY of Ohio, an organization that offers support and training for foster parents and children. Bridges of Hope, a center for those experiencing homelessness in Xenia, is another location to which the fund donates regularly.

Castellano told the News that when it comes to making the most of donations, “it is most sensible to be organized.”

She advised that people who also feel moved to aid those experiencing homelessness make donations to the Yellow Springs United Methodist Church’s Blanket Fund or to the aforementioned organizations, rather than attempting to deliver such items directly to the people who need them.

These agencies, she said, have a large capacity for the storage of resources and established protocols for how those resources may be obtained by the people who need them.

The church’s Blanket Fund does not have stipulations for sizes of blankets and will accept baby blankets to king-sized ones. The church asks for blankets in “fairly decent shape,” but does not require specific thicknesses. If a blanket is thin, Castellano said she can sew it together with another similar blanket.

Castellano also described a “no-sew throw” blanket that requires minimal skill, telling the News that everybody can get involved with sewing — or “no-sewing” — and donating.

For more information on the blanket fund, or to donate, contact the YSUMC office at 937-767-7560. The office is open Tuesdays through Thursdays, 9 a.m.–noon. For instructions on creating a “no-sew” blanket, visit bit.ly/3gKlNtn.

*The writer is a freelance reporter for the News and an English major at Wright State University concentrating in professional and technical writing. She is interested in rhetoric, English literature and all things sports and music. She can be contacted at lewis.594@wright.edu.

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