MAHOPAC, N.Y. - On an early Wednesday afternoon, in a room on the top floor of the Mahopac Public Library, a dozen or so women sit around tables chatting amiably, giggling, gossiping and sharing stories—no politics or religion, please. They are here not just for the fellowship, but also for some serious business—knitting and crocheting.
These are the women of the Community Crafters. They meet her every Wednesday at noon at the library. Their sister organization, the Butterfly Quilters, meets on Tuesdays.
The items these two groups create, from blankets to scarves to mittens, and everything in between, go mostly to those who need them most: the sick, the elderly, the poor and our veterans. Recently, the two groups collaborated on a sale and raised more than $6,000 for Friends of Mahopac Library—the primary fundraising source for the library. It was a way for the knitters and quilters to say thanks to the library for providing them with a space in which to do their work.
Sheila Gargano and Dottie Buick founded Community Crafters more than a decade ago. They had met in a doctor’s office, where they were both knitting and crocheting.
“We were talking about finding some place to meet,” Gargano said. “We originally met over at Sycamore Park, but we couldn’t continue in the winter, so we asked if we could come here (the library). That was about 12 years ago.”
Word of mouth got more members. A separate group—Butterfly Quilters—was formed because many in the Community Crafters, while expert knitters, didn’t quilt. However, many of the ladies belong to both organizations. Between the two, there are about 40 members who bring their outstanding skills to the table.
“When it started out, we did it for the socialization,” said Gargano. “Dottie had a friend who she crotched with all the time and she moved away, and Dottie felt like she was in limbo. It’s a meditative thing you do by yourself—we just do it in public!”
Cathy Cavanaugh, a longtime member, said the group started making things for themselves and relatives. But that soon changed.
“You run out of things to make for you and your family. Everyone has a scarf and hat,” she said. “You want to continue to do it, so you make other stuff. So, we started doing things for the hospital—baby hats and blankets.”
The groups also provide a lot of items for the Community Action Program (CAP) and Women Infants and Children (WIC), as well as area nursing homes, and Castle Point and Montrose veterans hospitals.
“We don’t have a busiest time of the year. It’s busy all the time because we get requests,” Gargano said.
They have a special pattern for shawls for people in wheelchairs in nursing homes, so the shawl doesn’t get caught in the wheels.
“We have done all the nursing homes in the area,” said Cavanaugh. “We have also gotten requests from orders of nuns like the Dominican Sisters. A nursing home could call and say we need 150 wheelchair wraps and that’s a project we will get together and do”
Most of the knitting and quilting supplies are bought and paid for by the group members themselves, although they do receive some donations.
“Several years ago, we decided to try a sale to see if we could give something back to the library,” said Cavanaugh. “Last year, we did a demonstration as well as the sale. We had a group knit—people could come and knit in a circle and it was a lot of fun. But this year we went back to a holiday-themed sale and it was our most successful. We raised about $6,000. We made a lot of upscale stuff, fashionable shawls and hats with good-quality yarn. We were almost sold out. Whatever is left over is divided up. CAP gets the hats and gloves and the baby stuff goes to WIC and Hudson Valley Hospital, and veterans get hats and blankets.
“The First Presbyterian Church takes the little stuff that’s left over and sells it at their flea market,” she added. “So, everything goes to some good cause, which we are very proud of.”
You don’t have to be an expert knitter or quilter to join. The members are happy to give lessons to neophytes just starting out and help them knit simple items such as bookmarks.
“This bunch of women is awesome,” said Community Crafters member Eileen Iezzi. “They give with their hearts and their time and their talent. You can come here, and you don’t have to make something to donate. You can make something for yourself or your family if you want.”
“It gets us out and we look forward to coming here to chit-chat and crochet and everything else,” adds Inez DeCicco.
Tracy Griffin, the member who delivers the goods to the VA hospitals, said that the vets and their families can’t believe they’re getting these items for free.
“I went to Castle Point recently and walked in and said, ‘would you like a blanket,’ and they say, ‘how much?’” she laughed. “They are just so appreciative. I had this long blanket that someone made, and I said to one vet, would you like to have it, and the wife said, ‘oh, yes!’ When you see the families there, the love, it’s fantastic. He couldn’t speak, and she just put the blanket on him and was rubbing his back and playing bingo with him. It’s just amazing. I gave out 17 walker bags and three afghans that day.”
Member Marge Uddin used to volunteer for CAP, so she is aware of what their needs are.
“So, whenever we make things they can use, I take them to them,” she said.
Cavanaugh recalled the time a newborn at Hudson Valley Hospital had to be sent home in a towel because there were no blankets available.
“Every baby should have their own blanket,” she said.
Thanks to the ladies of Community Crafters and the Butterfly Quilters, they do.