Some people aren't fortunate to have a warm blanket to carry them through the long, cold winters. Others don't have the reassurance that someone out there cares about them. Still others have lost everything to fires, tornadoes or other calamities.
And it's those people whom Cincinnati retirement home residents Philip and Joan Maechling and their all-volunteer "Deupree Knotters" group have served.
Under the Maechlings' leadership, Deupree House residents have provided warm blankets to more than 1,500 people since 2011 as an important piece of the Blanketed with Love program, a non-profit organization the Maechlings' granddaughters founded in Michigan.
5 years and 720,000 knots later
The Maechlings’ granddaughters started Blanketed with Love in 2008 to provide free, comforting blankets to people who are homeless, homebound, poor, ill or disadvantaged. Local volunteers have helped to make the blankets by knotting together squares of fleece procured by the Maechlings and the Deupree Knotters.
The volunteers cut around the edges of the fleece squares to form fringe and knot them together to form the larger blanket. Each blanket requires about 500 knots to be tied, so quite a bit of time and effort go into making each piece. To date, the group has tied over 720,000 knots, which equates to almost 1,500 handmade, unique blankets, all made by just a few senior volunteers.
Moreover, all the funding to purchase the fleece has come from fellow Deupree House residents, according to Joan Maechling.
"We have never solicited funds, we've never asked for funds," she said. "People see what we're doing and they bring us a donation.”
The blankets are vibrantly colored, warm and — most importantly — consoling for the people who receive them. The Deupree Knotters have donated the blankets they’ve made to several non-profit organizations for distribution.
Who gets the blankets?
One of the major recipients was the Center for Respite Care, a Cincinnati-area non-profit organization that provides follow-on medical care for formerly homeless individuals who are transitioning to regular housing, usually after a hospital stay.
In addition to providing medical care for its clients, the Center for Respite Care provides case management services that assist formerly homeless people in developing and implementing a plan for self-sufficiency, which can include help with shelter or housing placement, help in applying for social safety net and income assistance programs, placement with substance abuse treatment and mental health services and other common transitional needs.
The blankets have served a dual purpose for the Center for Respite Care: They’ve helped vulnerable people stay warm during the coldest months, and they’ve served as a point of outreach. In fact, the blankets have been so beloved that many recipients have refused to give them up when they transition off the streets.
"The [Center for Respite Care] director told us one time that frequently when the men are moving off the streets, they want to get rid of all their old street clothing," Phil Maechling said. "But she said they will never leave the blanket behind. That's the kind of thing that makes it a very rewarding charity."
In addition to Center for Respite Care, Deupree House-made blankets have been distributed through the Interfaith Hospitality Network of local churches and faith-based organizations — or sometimes directly by the Maechlings themselves.
Leaving no one in the wind
In March 2012, when an EF-3 tornado struck the small villages of Moscow and Bethel, Ohio, just east of Deupree House in Clermont County, Phil Maechling knew that many people had lost their homes and nearly everything they owned.
He decided to do something to help. So he called up the Bethel Fire Department and asked if any of the residents in the area could use clean, warm blankets.
Sure enough, he was told. Almost 90 families had been displaced in Moscow alone. So Phil and Joan loaded their car full of blankets and drove them 20 miles east to Bethel. The fire department then took the blankets to a local donation center, where they were given directly to tornado-affected Clermont County residents.
"We knew those blankets would keep at least a few people warm,” Phil said. "We’re always looking for places to donate them. We just enjoy doing things for others.”
Clearly, the Maechlings and the Deupree Knotters have been living out the spirit of ministry that Episcopal Retirement Services holds up as one of its Core Values, setting an example for us all.