‘Hugs’ for hospice patients

‘Faith Factor’ youth make weighted blankets as service project

KIMBERLY — Faith Factor participants are making “hugs” for hospice patients as one of their 2017 service projects. Sewing weighted blankets was one of the projects during the July 17-20 event in the Fox Valley.

Holy Spirit parishioner Karen Sutter assists Ian Mettelmann of St. Mary Parish in Appleton with sewing cloth strips to be made into weighted blankets for hospice patients. The three-day service project sponsored by Faith Factor, a youth ministry program made up of youth in grades six to 12 from the Fox Valley area, took place at Holy Spirit Church in Kimberly. (Brad Birkholz | For The Compass)

According to Sarah Elmer, coordinator of youth ministry at Holy Spirit Parish (Kimberly and Darboy), the weighted blankets will go to patients in ThedaCare Hospice. Many of these patients have Parkinson’s Disease, Alzheimer’s or other types of dementia, she explained. The weighted blankets are meant to calm tremors.

“It’s like a big hug,” she said. While it is known that the blankets bring comfort and help these patients, they are not considered necessary medical equipment so they are not covered by insurance. “Many families at this point are strapped for money, so our donation helps them out. The blankets help patients die with dignity,” she said.

This is the second time the Kimberly-Darboy parish participated in this blanket project. The previous time was last fall. Since then, the volunteers have streamlined the process to get more blankets made. On Tuesday, July 18, the students had an assembly line established in the Holy Spirit Parish Center. Some were measuring and cutting fabric; some were counting out weighted beads; others were sewing pockets for the beads.

Elmer said the project grew out of an idea from her husband, who works with ThedaCare. “I asked him for an idea of what we could do as a social justice project,” she said. The hospice workers suggested the blankets and said there were eight to 12 people in hospice who could use one.

“We plan to complete four blankets during the three days of this service project,” she said.

All the materials were donated or purchased with financial donations, said Elmer. Parish members and volunteers also lent or donated seven portable sewing machines. Six parish members volunteered to help the students with the project. This meant researching and some pre-sewing so the blankets could be made in the allotted time.

The work can be time-consuming, Elmer said, because a blanket has to be 10 percent of a patient’s body weight. “We have to figure out how to dispense the beads and how to sew them in to distribute them throughout the blanket.”

The youth sew the fabric pieces together to create a tube so the beads can be dumped in. These sections are then sewn together to make a blanket. The blankets can be washed and reused or given to other patients, she added.

“I think my favorite part of this project is that it brought together many people to make it work,” she said. There are the volunteers, the youth ministers from Faith Factor (The Fox Area Catholic Teen Outreach Association), people from Project Linus (an organization that makes blankets for children) and the participating youth.

Faith Factor is made up of youth in grades six to 12 from the Fox Valley area, including Appleton, Neenah-Menasha, Sherwood, Kaukauna and Kimberly-Darboy. It holds a service week for area youth each summer. It is a week devoted to service projects that show Catholic social teaching in action. Time is spent each day in prayer and service. On the last day, families joined the youth for a celebratory meal at St. Thomas More Church, Appleton, the home base for this year’s Faith Factor.

When explaining the project to the young sewers, Elmer said she tells them to think of the person who will be receiving the blanket and offer up a prayer for them.

Emily Vollmer from St. John-Sacred Heart, Sherwood, said the Faith Factor experience is good. “It’s fun to get out in the community and do things. That opportunity doesn’t come up a lot.”

Anna Auth from St. Margaret Mary Parish, Neenah, added that she is pleased to be able to help people. Looking at the blanket she was pushing through her sewing machine, she added, “I have a family friend who is autistic and I know these blankets work. This experience is giving us a chance to help out people who are suffering.”

Kay Goeser, Sherwood, served as leader for this group of six students. She has worked with Faith Factor for 12 years and coordinates it for her parish, St. John-Sacred Heart. “It is such an awesome experience for these students. They get to see different nonprofits and work with a diverse group of people.”

She called the blanket making a “neat project. It is worthwhile.”

“This morning we were at St. Paul Home in Kaukauna,” she added, “At lunch, the students shared that it was nice being there with the people and seeing them smile.”

At the end of the week, she said, the Faith Factor coordinators put together all the photos the leaders take for a display and a video for the participants and their families to see at the final meal and Mass.

The students are divided into groups of about six and rotate their service sites, going to two different places each day. In addition to the blanket project in Kimberly, the students offered their talents to places including the Emergency Shelter, Salvation Army and Harbor House in Appleton, St. Paul Elder Services in Kaukauna, and Mount Tabor Center in Menasha.