Kathy Silverton’s “Little” Knitting Charity Hits Half-Million Mark
Sometime this August, the 500,000th baby item will be packed into a box with a big red heart on it, along with 49 other items, to be shipped to newborns in need, by Stitches from the Heart. On that day, probably a Tuesday when most of the packing for the week is done, the not-quite 10-year-old Stitches from the Heart Charity will have hit the half million mark!
A tiny newborn baby sent home from the hospital wearing little more than a diaper. That’s the image Kathy Silverton couldn’t let go of almost ten years ago when her twelve-year-old daughter, Shane, told her about an article she’d read claiming many American babies born into poverty begin their lives without even a shirt on their little backs.
The story touched something deep inside the Brentwood, California mom who immediately picked up her knitting needles and began to knit. Whenever she had a moment to spare, Kathy crafted booties, blankets, sweaters and hats for the babies and sent the tiny items to hospitals hoping they would reach the families who needed them most. Soon she was recruiting her friends to further the cause.
But it wasn’t until a short blurb about her charity work ran in the Los Angeles Times that Kathy’s mission took on a life of its own. Within days after the story hit the stands, over one hundred women contacted Kathy asking to help.
Today, the little charity that started in Kathy’s spare room, receiving and shipping maybe 50 little baby items a week currently has an active membership of more than 12,000 across the country. Now, from a tiny back room in the charity’s non-profitYarn Shoppe on Pico Boulevard in Santa Monica, CA, Stitches volunteers receive and pack up an average of 2,000 items a week, sending boxes of 50 items each to more than 650 hospitals, shelters and other institutions throughout the United States. That one tiny spark of caring back in 1998 set off a blaze of generosity that has spread throughout the United States and into Canada and England.
“I look back and I cannot find the words to describe my amazement at this whole thing,” says Kathy now. “I’m just so happy because so many good things have come from it.”
The Formative Years
In its formative stages, Stitches overtook three rooms in the Silvertons’ home. And no wonder. Almost from its inception the charity was shipping and receiving thousands of baby items a month. Not only was finding space a problem, but running the thriving organization in a residential neighborhood meant logistics dilemmas as well.
“My postman was ready to kill me. I mean, he was really ready,” Kathy says with a laugh.
Determined to find a better place to conduct business, Kathy subleased a storefront and opened the Stitches For the Heart Yarn Shoppe on April 1, 2004 on a wing and a prayer. The little shop even used free supermarket cardboard shelves to hold the merchandise initially. But now, with ample help from Stitches volunteers, the store has become a success story, helping to defray the overwhelming cost of shipping the donated items out to hospitals and charities. The volunteers help price and sell yarn, teach knitting and crocheting classes, and pack boxes there as well. All profits from the store go to help with the charity’s expenses.
The other winners
Although the babies and their families are the obvious beneficiaries of Stitches From the Heart, Kathy says she’s convinced the volunteers receive something even more profound when they knit a tiny cap or sweater: a sense of accomplishment and purpose knowing they are contributing to a better world.
“I know the babies get the benefit, but think of all the givers,” Kathy says.
Because of this unexpected offshoot, Stitches From the Heart donates yarn, needles and supplies to over ninety-two retirement communities for seniors who cannot afford to purchase their own materials. Yet the money to provide the supplies is getting harder to come by in the past few years, Kathy says. In the beginning, yarn retailers and manufacturers often donated crates of yarn, but now with the recent crafts and knitting boom, the stores are selling more and donations are drying up. Last year Kathy was even forced to dig into her own pocket to buy supplies for the seniors. Needless to say, Kathy still counts on individual donations from women willing to reach into their personal stash of unused yarn.
“I probably have enough yarn to last me five lifetimes,” she jokes. “Knitters are like that.”
While running a charity as busy as Stitches From the Heart has its frustrations and challenges, it’s the letters from volunteers and the hospital nurses that help Kathy stay focused. Over the years she has received letters from elderly women who felt the world had forgotten about them but have since found new hope and purpose through Stitches. She has also received letters from cancer survivors who tell her their volunteer work for Stitches From the Heart helped them face their darkest days while in treatment.
But there is one letter that stands out and allows Kathy to understand the impact of her vision on the lives of real people across the country.
A traveling nurse in New York wrote a thank you note recently saying she visited a small trailer where a woman and her children lived. The trailer, ice cold, was without heat. Quickly realizing she had to warm the children up, the nurse ran back to her vehicle and pulled out the big box of knitted clothes she’d received from Stitches From the Heart. The youngest baby’s tiny lips trembled from the cold as the nurse fitted it into a sweater and wrapped the children in blankets.
When Kathy hears these stories – and she admits she receives “tons of them” – all the hard work coordinating shipping, running the store, and spending hours in front of the computer writing the organization’s newsletter seems worthwhile. And she admits Stitches From the Heart never would have happened without the dedication of her volunteers, some of the “nicest people in the world.”
“Here are women who spend hours making these little items for babies who they’ll never know and never see. Now, is that not giving from the heart?” she asks. “It’s a wonderful thing. I just can’t tell you how wonderful it is.”