Afghan makers, from left, Paula Meisner, Angie Marano, Marilyn Powell and Marge Brannon get together at St. Paul the Apostle church in Racine on Wednesday, Jan. 13. Not present were June Nienhause and Marilyn Fralich. The women make afghans from yarn donated to them by parish members and distribute them for charity each year. In 2009, about 100 of the afghans they knitted were given away.

RACINE — Sometimes a little comfort and a lot of warm thoughts can go a long way toward comforting the sick, aged, lonely or newly born.

That thought is what keeps the women of St. Paul the Apostle Parish knitting or crocheting the warm, colorful afghans that they give to community members, residents of nursing homes, and to low-income mothers of newborns.

As part of the church’s SPAM group, an acronym for St. Paul Afghan Makers, these women knit or crochet for people needing a little extra warmth in their lives, said group coordinator Margaret Brannon.

For the past three years, about six or seven women have participated in the ministry. While their work is done independently, the yarn is collected from donors and stored in a craft room at the parish.

Years ago, Brannon crocheted an afghan for her mother, who resided in a Burlington nursing home, and when others took notice of the pretty design, she began crocheting for Society’s Assets, and organizations that help single mothers.

“I started running out of yarn and my daughter posted online (bulletin board) that I


Marilyn Powell knits an afghan at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Racine on Wednesday, Jan. 13. She is one of several women who comprise the church’s SPAM group, an acronym for St. Paul Afghan Makers. (Catholic Herald photos by Ernie Mastroianni)

needed yarn for afghans that I was donating and people began giving me all sorts of yarn,” she said. “I started bringing some into church to be distributed to shut-ins and nursing homes through the human concerns committee.”

Recognizing the ministry’s potential to serve others, Fr. William Dietzler, pastor, suggested to Brannon that she get a group going, find a name and then ask for donations through the church bulletin.

“I thought and thought about a name and suddenly it came to me, SPAM,” laughed Brannon. “Since then people have been giving us yarn and the volunteers crochet or knit afghans or lap robes. We have no pattern or size requirements. Some ladies have made small baby afghans with soft baby yarn, and some have made large afghans to cover a single bed.”

The afghans are stored at St. Paul Church until Christmas. Last year, SPAM presented 84 afghans to the human concerns committee for delivery. While most of them went to nursing homes or shut-ins from the parish, some were donated to the annual parish baby shower to benefit low-income, single mothers.

“We wrap everything and the Boy Scouts get involved and make Christmas cards to go with the afghans,” said Brannon.

While SPAM’s ministry is primarily behind the scenes, June Nienhaus, who crocheted six last year, admitted it makes her feel good to be involved in such a good cause.

“I know that we have gotten thank you notes from quite a few people, and it makes me feel good that we can give these people a little happiness,” she said. “My parents were both in nursing homes and I know they always enjoyed having an afghan or nap blanket to throw over them. A lot of older people don’t have anybody and this little gift makes them feel special. They just appreciate any small thing so much.”

Most SPAM members do the bulk of their needlework in the winter months, but Marilyn Powell enjoys the art so much that she crochets year round. Not content to simply crochet for family, she spends hours making buttery colored baby afghans and brightly hued lap robes and adult afghans.

“I always hope the ones I make are a nice enough gift, especially for a baby,” she said. “I really enjoy helping out in some way and it makes me feel good.”

Much of the donated yarn comes from unfinished projects, remnants of finished projects, attic finds, or just from someone who no longer knits or crochets. Because of the variety, Brannon often chuckles at the interesting finished projects.

“Sometimes we get some very colorful results,” she said. “We might have a small amount of orange, with a lot of green, purple and blue, but they all look pretty anyway. What matters is that when these people are riding in their wheelchairs, their legs are exposed and this keeps them covered and warm.”

The ladies normally don’t know the recipients of the lap robes or afghans. But during the days it takes to make one, they pray that God empowers their work so that it can bring comfort to the recipient.

“I know a lot of the ladies say prayers when making them,” Brannon said. “You just can’t help but do it when you are making something for someone you don’t know. I always hope that it keeps the person warm and blessed by it and say a few prayers for the person.”

Content to remain behind the scenes in their ministry, the ladies don’t expect notoriety for their efforts.

“We are just grateful that people give us the yarn and there are so many who are willing to do this to help others,” said Brannon. “We don’t do this for the purpose of being recognized; we just do it to help.”