Opening days at the Knit-a-Square barn in Johannesburg happen on a Tuesday and are always rewarding. With mail arriving continuously from overseas, and quantities of squares and toys brought in by local knitters, we volunteers get to experience something like Christmas every week! This blog gives you a glimpse into what happens after your parcels arrive. I hope to paint vivid word pictures of all the goings-on and to share the warmth we feel when we receive your wonderful contributions. Happy reading everyone!being
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Bongi, Tango and I arrived at the barn this week at the same time as the volunteers from Soweto. They came in laughing and hugging everyone they met which produced a lovely warm feeling on an otherwise cool autumn morning. The rest of the volunteers—Anne, Audrey, Vivienne, Estelle, Athele and her friend Ayla—were already at work at the long table, unwrapping the parcels that had come in the previous day. As for Ronda, she was answering phone calls at her desk at the far end beside a simply breathtaking pile of blankets.
"Mind the cake," said Ronda as she put down the phone and invited me to take a seat.
Into my mind flashed a big birthday cake decorated with gooey pink and green icing. I pulled Tango up short and crept to my chair, avoiding the edge of the desk.
"Watch out!" said Ronda again, seeing that I was on the verge of falling sideways into the pile of blankets. "The cake!"
She was, of course, referring to the cake of blankets, so-called because it resembles a gorgeous colourful rectangular confection when it rises above knee height. I collapsed into the chair laughing, relieved that my dark jeans weren't covered in icing and that someone's birthday treat hadn't been spoiled!
After praying for Knit-a-Square and its members all over the world, as well as the children whom we serve, Nani led us in singing "Our Father". Just as we reached the "Amen", Ronda's phone struck up with a bagpipe rendition of "Amazing Grace" and she ran to answer it. The call was from her sister Rozanne [Zanny], who is currently on holiday in South Africa with her friends, Fiona and Leo. I heard Ronda say, "Yes, do come in. It's buzzing today so it will be lovely for you to see everything and everyone.". Zannny is Sandy's mother, and Sandy is the person who started Knit-a-Square with Ronda ten years ago and continues to manage the website today. This made the visit really special for us as Zanny will be able to return to Australia and give Sandy a full rundown of what it was like to be in the barn with so many blankets piled up.
Many of the blankets had come in from the gogos, having been collected after the Easter weekend when the volunteers were away. Others came in from friends of Knit-a-Square who enjoy the challenge of combining odd-shaped squares into artistic creations. Still others came in from our volunteers who take home specially-selected blanket packs to work on for their own pleasure. The balance comprised blankets that arrived fully-completed from members far away, several of them in absolutely stunning colours which will totally transform a creche or child's bedroom.
Athele and Ayla are off to a little village outside the Pafuri gate of the Kruger National Park, and spent an hour or so selecting suitable blankets, hand warmers and hats to take with them for the children there. Because of the warm bushveld climate, the blankets needed to be more lightweight than usual, so they did their best to choose a collection which would both delight the children and meet their temperature needs. Athele promises to take lots of photos and write a report about her distribution when it is over.
Meanwhile, the project with the navy blue knitted strips is on track. This is a project which we are doing to assist Redefine Properties with a social outreach campaign they started but have been unable to finish. Matching strips are being bundled into packs in readiness to be sent to the gogo groups, and the company is sponsoring yarn and payment for the gogos, plus needles with which to knit additional strips as necessary. The gogos are grateful for the extra work and opportunity to earn. Our volunteers, for their part, can't wait to finish with the monochrome school blanket packs and get back to sorting colourful squares! We anticipate the Redefine project will be over by the end of May.
good to hear that the office is filling up with lots of blankets for the winter!
Another great read, Leanne, thank you for all the news.Sounds like another busy day at the barn.
Thank you Leanne for updating us on life in the barn. Your blog is much appreciated :))
What a beautiful start to the weekly gathering at the KAS Barn! Really hope I can join you one day,
Today at the barn we had the opportunity to view Knit-a-Square through the eyes of some of our faithful knitters and crocheters. The Waterval group comprises women who live at a retirement village in the Florida/Roodepoort area to the west of Johannesburg. Some of them have been supporting us with squares and other knitted items for seven years. Others are new to the group and weren't quite sure what we are all about, so they were in for a wonderful surprise.
There were eleven ladies in all, and they were greeted enthusiastically by Ronda, Anne and Audrey when they disembarked from their bus at 10am. Ronda showed them around, finishing up at the other end of the barn where the "cake" stood. The cake was impressively high, consisting of blankets collected last week from three different gogo groups. As the ladies watched, several more freshly-unpacked blankets were laid on the cake, having been sent ready-made by our overseas members. From my place at the long table, i could hear gasps of admiration and the odd question as Ronda carefully explained how the parcels are collected at the post office, opened by the volunteers and sorted according to item, then how the squares are matched by size and combined into blanket packs before being sent off to the gogo groups to be made into finished blankets.
Soon my curiosity got the better of me and I joined the visitors to listen to their conversation. From everything they said and asked, it was clear that they were bowled over by what they were seeing, and hugely inspired to boot. Several of the ladies were captivated by the toys they spotted. They loved the crocheted Knit-a-Square "Cuddle Bug" and wanted to try it in knitting as well. others were thrilled with the stitches that some of our members use in squares, while still others simply admired the different yarns and colour combinations that made up the blankets. This is what makes the experience of visiting Knit-a-Square so valuable. People generally respond positively to the idea of making blankets for vulnerable children, but actually touching those blankets and seeing how distinct each one is from the next leaves a lasting impression. The Waterfall group thanked us profusely for the chance to be shown around and promised to continue supporting Knit-a-Square.
I must say, standing amongst them and listening to Ronda, I felt thoroughly blessed to be a volunteer at the heart of the Knit-a-Square operation. Knowing how many members we have around the world who are staunchly behind us, busily creating squares, packaging up toys, coordinating their friends' participation, making donations and cheering each other on in the forum, I can only marvel. i often think our worldwide network is itself like a handmade blanket, woven together with love.
Today was Bongi's birthday, so we celebrated in style with tea and cake. Bongi had the privilege of opening an enormous parcel of over 400 squares from the Czech Republic that were well-made and easy to combine into blanket packs because of their regular sizes. The Buccleuch Primary School delivered several big bags of blankets and jerseys for inclusion in our distributions, this being their second time contributing work from their community. A parcel arrived from Albuquerque, New mexico containing just two squares and a long letter, in which the sender explained that there had been a scavenger hunt in her area which included knitting for charity as one of its activities. What a novel idea, and how special that Knit-a-Square was chosen to be the beneficiary of the finished squares!
Finally, a note about the elections in our country. Thankfully, they went smoothly. We pray that our leaders will govern with wisdom and gain a deeper understanding of the needs of the poor going forward.
Thank you Leanne! Knit a Square is truly very special! Thank you for giving us a beautifully detailed glimpse into the weekly activities in the Barn. I love reading every post!
Thank you for these two lovely reports, Leanne. (I had a little catching up to do).
Belated birthday wishes to Bongi....I hope she enjoyed her cake.
Thank you Leanne for your latest report, which brings the barn activities closer to us. I like the idea the blanket ’cake’........ so many tangible warm layers that represent fantastic team work and amazing love and care from around tne world.
I try and put myseld in the shoes of your KASbarn visitors, what a joy :))
A belated happy birthday to Bongi !
A sense of rich abundance characterised this week's opening day. I arrived to find the barn buzzing with activity and had to pick my way around piles of blanket bags at the entrance. Inside, the volunteers were already busy at work sorting squares. At the far end of the barn on the carpet were piled multiple stacks of folded blankets awaiting bagging.
"I just had to stop and catch my breath," said a visiting woman from Turkey. She was one of four visitors who arrived unexpectedly bearing gifts for Knit-a-Square. Three of them were military wives while the fourth was a man in the military attache service. I learned that the women love to explore different cultures and like to find ways of making a contribution. Several of them are knitters so they looked online for a local organisation dedicated to knitting for charity.
"I visited the website of Knit-a-Square," said the woman from Ukraine, "and was excited when I saw the blankets and the children with their smiling faces. Coming here, we can see that this place is well run and the people look very happy!"
The group brought knitted tops and squares, plus an abundant supply of apples, dates, biscuits and long-life milk for the volunteers to hand out at upcoming distributions.
"We would love to visit again," said the woman from Cameroon, "and next time we will bring more of our group to see what you are doing here." She threw her arms around me and I could feel her absolute joy at making this wonderful connection.
It reminded me of another great piece of news concerning Knit-a-Square. At the start of this year, a woman named Linda Timmons boarded a round-the-world cruise ship, the Silver Sea, for three months. She took with her yarn, needles and patterns, and her plan was to form a knitting group on board in support of Knit-a-Square. When she docked in Cape Town, she handed over nearly 700 squares plus other knitted items to Ronda's daughter Shan, and reported that the knitting group had been such a success that the members were planning to continue knitting for the rest of their cruise. Even the captain was taken with the project, supplying additional yarn and requesting photographs to help it flourish.
"This is evidence that Knit-a-Square has legs," said Ronda as we talked about the ship project. "People usually go on a cruise to put their feet up, but there is only so much relaxing one can do. Having something on board that allows them to keep busy and help others at the same time is tremendously satisfying. I hope more cruise ships start up knitting groups. The need for knitted blankets never really ends."
With so much stock in, the barn seriously needs clearing. Mabel and Themba took around 60 blankets and toys to a creche yesterday morning and Bongi put aside 75 blankets and beanies for a distribution in Hillbrow in June. We had to take the blankets for Hillbrow in my car, but could only fit in 40 on one trip. it is amazing how much space the bags take up in an ordinary vehicle. Poor Tango lost her comfortable spot in the back and had to curl up like a regular guide dog at my feet!
Some cost adjustments seem to have been made at the Post Office, resulting in the customs handling fees coming down a bit. This is good news and we hope the fees will drop even further. This week's large post cost in the region of R2000, which is still high but much better than at the end of last year.
Finally, we now have two contacts at paediatric wards in government hospitals. Sister Sue at Baragwanath has been helping us distribute baby blankets and beanies for several years, and now we have a new contact at a hospital in Leratong on the west Rand. If, therefore, you especially want to knit for babies, you can do so and send the items as you do everything else.
Thank you for this cheerful and entertaining piece. I have goosebumps!!