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I must have been a squirrel in a previous life. Definitely not a hoarder or a packrat, I prepare for winter each year like many of our furry little friends. I search for new and creative projects; I like to be productive. When I lived in my home near downtown Champaign’s sesquicentennial neighborhood, I stockpiled firewood during 38 autumns with fervor.

This past season, I acquired a yearning for yarn. It started when a friend gave me assorted yarn from an older acquaintance who had recently downsized. I had no real plan for using yarn, but I enjoy crocheting and had hear that the Retired Senior Volunteer Program welcomes donations of handcrafted washable quilted, knitted or crocheted blankets, 2 by 3 feet, used as lap blankets for local nursing home residents.

I started in December, and by mid-February, I had completed 14 colorful crocheted blankets, at approximately 20 hours per blanket. Due to small quantities of any single color, no blankets were identical, each was multicolored.

My yarn supply ultimately became depleted, so I visited The Idea Store, the crafts resale shop in Lincoln Square Mall whose proceeds support local schools. There I bought several balls of yarn. But it still was not enough.

So, I posted on nextdoor.com, not knowing what sort of response I might get:

“YARN wanted: any color, any quantity, any size.

“I crochet blankets for senior in nursing homes via RSVP. Leave your unused yarn on the front porch at (address).”

Much to my surprise, within a few days, people arrived at my front door donating interesting containers and decorative knitting bags filled with yarn. I even acquired three new crochet hooks of varying sizes amidst all this yarn. Some yarn arrived with a short note:

“So nice that you’re donating your talents. Hope this helps a little.”

But one greeting card really tugged at my emotions.

“Debbie — I was really glad to see your request for yarn. This is some that my mom had, though she had not been able to finish a project for several years because of arthritis. She passed away recently. She would be happy to know it’s being put to good use. Enjoy!”

I became misty-eyed reading that note inside a flowered knitting bag full of untouched yarn skeins.

I dumped all my newly acquired yarn onto the living room carpet, sorting through these generous donations. Some was wool (unwashable), some was too fine and not easily used by my petite hands, and some was novelty yarn (too fuzzy), not exactly what I wanted to crochet.

There was just too much yarn for me to store in my tiny condo and use in a reasonable amount of time. So, I did what seemed obvious; I posted a new nextdoor.com announcement.

“YARN: Be careful what you wish for. To all the people who donated yarn, thank you. But now I have more than I can use, so for now, please don’t leave more yarn on my porch.

“But on a different note, if you’re considering creating something for charity requiring yarn, I’ll happily give you some yarn.”

I left some skeins of yarn on a friend’s porch; her church volunteers knit colorful prayer shawls.

I also emailed my knitting group about free yarn.

Quickly, I heard from someone in the group. We’d never met. She knits mittens for children in need. She came by on a snowy afternoon and we loaded boxes of colorful yarn into her hatchback.

What started as a gift box of yarn from a friend a few months ago has turned into an obsession of trading yarn. It’s morphed into a project that just keeps on giving.

I’ve told this story with family members and friends and have received many suggestions of a bigger project, maybe start something like the Little Free Pantry or Little Free Library, as a neighborhood yarn swap for charity work. It’s an idea worth pondering.

When I run low on yarn again, I may post another solicitation for yarn on Nextdoor.com, or some other online information exchange. Since swapping yarn for charity work, I’ve met some amazingly, kind people. And it always feels really good to help others.

During these times when life can sometimes make you feel blue, being blanketed by yarn from so many decent and generous people has brightened my days. There’s really much goodness in this world woven in with the bad stuff. We must remind ourselves to never lose sight of that.

Debra Karplus is an occupational therapist and freelance writer living in Champaign-Urbana. Learn more at debrakarplus.blogspot.com.

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