By Mary Heyl

Has everyone you know received a hand-knitted scarf, hat, sweater, or afghan from you and you need something else to knit? Are you a new knitter looking for a small, fast project to get comfortable with your new skills? Are you looking to use your hobby for the greater good? There are a variety of knitting charities that can benefit from your skills, and there’s no better time to get started than now!

It’s February, American Heart Month, and in honor of heart health and awareness, the American Heart Association invites you to take part in their Little Hats, Big Hearts campaign. Knitters and crocheters are encouraged to knit newborn and preemie hats to be distributed to hospitals nationwide during the month of February to raise awareness about heart disease and congenital heart defects, and empower new moms to live heart healthy lives and to help their children do the same.

Little Hats, Big Hearts started in February 2014 in Chicago, when 300 hats were collected that first year. Now, the program has grown to include hospitals in 40 states, including New York. Knitters and crocheters can use their own patterns for baby hats; however, the campaign also has free patterns available to download on their website http://www.heart.org/HEARTORG/General/Little-Hats-Big-Hearts_UCM_487734_SubHomePage.jsp. For the comfort and safety of the newborns, hats should be made with red worsted or heavy worsted cotton or acrylic yarns that are machine washable and dryable and are not embellished with any buttons or bows. Donations of yarn are also accepted. Hats made in the Western New York region can be sent to Rochester, NY. Email Alexis Zimmerman at alexis.zimmerman@heart.org or Colleen Benger at colleen.benger@heart.org to learn more!

Your knitting can have an international impact when you join the Knitting4Peace community, a grass roots organization started in 2006 dedicated to providing hope, healing, and peace one stitch at a time. Since 2006, Knitting4Peace has delivered requested items to almost 105,000 people living in communities across the United States and 69 countries around the world. Items include scarves, hats, mittens/gloves, baby blankets, Peace Pals (knitted boy and girl dolls), Birthing Kits (baby cap, baby Peace Pal, washcloth), winter socks, quilted sleeping mats for AIDS orphans and more.

Knitters, crocheters, and quilters can create on their own and send items to Knitting4Peace,

2600 Leyden St., Denver, CO 80207. They can also join “Peace Pods,” which are local groups of crafters who get together and make items together on a regular basis. In Cattaraugus County, knitters and crocheters can join the Olean Peace Pod by contacting Cookie Lindamer at dclindamer@roadrunner.com. To start your own Peace Pod or get links to the patterns used for Peace Pals, Peace Shawls, Blankets of Peace and Winter Gloves, visit www.knitting4peace.org.

Yarn for Ewe in Randolph, NY collects knitted and crocheted preemie and newborn hats and booties year ‘round to donate to the maternity centers of UPMC Chautauqua WCA and Olean General Hospital so that every baby goes home with something nice and warm made by a local crafter! In September and October, Yarn for Ewe collected over 100 hats for November and December babies, and are continuing to collect them throughout the winter. If you’d like to participate or would like Yarn for Ewe’s free knitted newborn hat pattern, call (716)267-2070 or visit them at 129 Main Street in Randolph.

There are many ways to keep your knitting and crochet local, too! Consider starting a hat/mitten tree at your church or community group, which is especially important this time of year. Area hospitals that provide cancer treatment services can benefit from knitted or crocheted lap robes, soft chemo caps, and “knitted knockers,” which are special handmade breast prosthesis for women who have undergone mastectomies or other procedures. Free patterns are available at www.chemocaps.com and www.knittedknockers.org. Visit https://www.allfreeknitting.com/knitting-for-charity for more ideas and organizations that can give your knitting or crochet a powerful impact!