KEVIN LEININGER: ‘Project Linus’ has comforted thousands; now it needs your help

Project Linus Coordinator Joyce Pickett is looking for a new location. (File photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.com)
Volunteers Sandy Koenig, left, and Cara Shipley work at the Project Linus office on Lake Avenue. (Photo by Kevin Leininger of The News-Sentinel.com)
Kevin Leininger

Since 2004, the volunteers of the local “Project Linus” chapter have made and delivered about 39,400 blankets and quilts to children who are seriously ill, traumatized or otherwise in need. But now, like its namesake in the “Peanuts” comic strip, the organization could use some comfort and security of its own.

That’s because the imminent expansion of a parking lot at the VA medical center next door will claim the former Salem United Church of Christ parsonage at 2401 Lake Ave. the Fort Wayne/Northeast Indiana Chapter has called home since 2005. As a result, the group that has been a blessing for so many others needs to be the beneficiary for a change, in the form of a new long-term location that contains at least 1,000 square feet but preferably 1,500 or more.

“We’re not in panic mode yet. There’s no deadline,” Coordinator Joyce Pickett said. “It could be months (before we have to move) or just a few days.”

Not even a mountain of security blankets can soothe that sort of uncertainty, but at least the chapter has experience with this sort of thing. After the group was founded by Pickett’s sister, Peggy Albertson, in 2004, it was forced to leave its initial storefront location with just three days’ notice. The church came to the rescue by offering the parsonage after its use as a homeless ministry “didn’t work out,” Pickett said.

Now Pickett is praying providential lightning strikes twice, because so much is riding on the outcome.

“The kids keep me going,” Pickett said as she recalled participating in National Adoption Day earlier this month at the Allen County Courthouse, how a grateful child asked for, and received, a new blanket after wearing the first one out, and how the group’s donations comforted victims of abuse at a sexual assault center. “It just breaks your heart,” she sighed.

So volunteers gather on Lake Avenue every week to create blankets, quilts and afghans out of the donated yarn and fabric that line the walls of what once were bedrooms. Almost all of it will be distributed back to the community, although exceptions are made for major disasters, such as in 2010 when the chapter sent 200 blankets to earthquake-ravaged Haiti.

With a forced relocation looming, Pickett has contacted various groups and taken to social media hoping to locate a new home. The search has been fruitless so far, but if there is a good Samaritan out there with an empty house or storefront to fill — did I mention most contributions to Project Linus are tax exempt? — coming forward now would be both neighborly and fitting.

Project Linus was founded in 1995 when Colorado resident Karen Loucks read a story about how a security blanket had helped a young girl endure chemotherapy. From that seed has sprung more than 5.5 million donated blankets and 250 chapters, including the one in Fort Wayne founded when Albertson, a sales representative at Edwards Sewing Center, concluded “God was calling me to do this.”

Not long after that, The News-Sentinel reported how 11-year-old Garrett Middle School student Tasha Simmons had become inseparable from the red, blue and black Dalmatian blanket she received from Project Linus after breaking an ankle and wrist in a car accident. “The blanket makes me feel a little safer in the car,” she said.

Pickett’s group is looking for the same sort of security now, but she seems to have no fear of the unknown.

“This is a very generous community,” she said.

If you have a possible location to offer or would like more information, contact Pickett at pickettjm@hotmail.com or call 486-2010.

This column is the commentary of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of The News-Sentinel. Email Kevin Leininger at kleininger@news-sentinel.com or call him at 461-8355.

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