By Ann Marie Barron
Students at West Morris Central High School are turning a relaxing hobby into a philanthropic enterprise by knitting hats, gloves and scarves for the homeless.
The Highlanders for Humanity group is 340 members strong and its latest undertaking has been a few years in the making.
“When I was younger, I remember seeing in Michael’s (craft store) a group collecting knitted squares and making them into blankets for the homeless and the elderly in hospitals,’’ said Kelli McGrath, a senior at the Washington Township high school and co-president of the club with another senior, Claire Caldarola. “I thought it was a such a nice idea.’’
McGrath learned to love knitting in fourth grade. An elective class at the Benedict A. Cucinella School offered her the opportunity.
“It’s really relaxing and it’s really good for stress,’’ said McGrath, who plans to attend Pratt Institute, in Brooklyn, N.Y., in the fall and study interior design. “A lot of times, I’ll just knit for 20 minutes to clear my mind.’’
At West Morris, she started the knitting group within the Highlanders for Humanity Club just for fun and relaxation. Soon after, they began giving their projects away to those in need.
“I think it’s a wonderful idea,’’ said Amelia Wright, an English teacher at WMC and one of the faculty advisors to the group. “It’s a great way for the students to think about those in their community- and beyond their community- and a great way for them to learn something new.’’
Wright said she was impressed by the number of kids who came out to knit, despite never having knitted before.
“It just speaks to their big hearts and their open mindedness,’’ she said. “They are so willing to learn new things and they’re willing to go outside their comfort zone to help people.’’
The group meets every other month, but members work on their knitting projects independently, said Wright, who shares advisory responsibilities with Diane McManus.
“When we do get together, we make it a big deal,’’ she said, noting that baked goods are brought in to the after-school meetings. “We play music. It’s just really comfortable, friendly environment.’’
Rob Goodwin, a history teacher at West Morris, donated all the yarn to the group, McGrath said. So far, more than 300 squares have been mailed to Pennsylvania to a woman who makes blankets for the infirmed and newborns, McGrath said. A town knitting group at the local library contributed more than 100 of the eight-inch-by-eight-inch squares, she said, and donations also came from a local retirement community. The hats and gloves are being made for the first time this winter.
Janet Brady, a teacher at West Morris, helped the students learn to knit. Wright has a cousin who lives in Manhattan who will deliver the scarves, gloves and hats to the homeless, personally.
McGrath was anticipating a good turnout for the most recent meeting, at which members were expected to deliver their completed items.
“We’ve had meeting before, teaching how to knit,’’ she said. “But, this is the first meeting being held to collect hats and scarves. It’s exciting.’’
Highlanders for Humanity has several other charitable activities in progress, as well. The group cooks food and delivers for the local food pantry and is currently running a penny war, collecting money to support the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society.
Members also participate in the Stuff the Bus food drive and clean up the Columbia Trail in the spring and fall.
“We just try to help the community as much as possible,’’ McGrath said.