On Joyce Irvine’s last day of radiation treatment for breast cancer, her two-month-old grandson, Gordon, was diagnosed with stage 4 neuroblastoma.
“When he was born, he was a beautiful little redhead,” said Irvine, flipping through photos of a laughing baby boy with budding front teeth. Quilting, a hobby for the last 36 years, became her way to cope.
On April 1, 2019, almost one year after her grandson’s diagnosis, Irvine formally announced the opening of a new chapter of Project Linus, a non-profit organization that provides handmade quilts and knitted blankets to traumatized or seriously ill children. As chapter coordinator, Irvine will head up Vermont’s first chapter, covering Chittenden, Lamoille, and Franklin counties.
Named after the famous Peanuts character, Project Linus began in 1995 after organization founder, Karen Loucks, read an article about a toddler with leukemia who endured more than two years of chemotherapy with the help of a special blanket. Loucks decided to hand make blankets for Denver’s Rocky Mountain Children’s Cancer Center and the organization grew from there.
According to their website, Project Linus has donated 7.5 million blankets since 1995, with a chapter in all 50 states. Their mission is to “provide love, a sense of security, warmth and comfort” to children in need. Irvine said that she started the local chapter for the same purpose, with Gordon as her inspiration.
Irvine’s goal right now is to get the ball rolling on fundraising and to find more “blanketeers” to help her. While a log cabin block design is her favorite to quilt, Irvine says that she makes more panel quilts because she can finish one in half a day. Irvine has found luck with young volunteers, working with students at Champlain Valley Union High School in Hinesburg who started a knitting club, as well as a third grade class at Hiawatha who are tying fleece blankets. She’s already given 42 blankets to the University of Vermont Medical Center.
Each quilt has a theme and a tag with the Project Linus emblem. One finished quilt features alternating squares of Frozen princesses, Elsa and Anna, lined in blue and purple squares. The first quilt Irvine ever made for her grandson featured a “trip around the world” theme, although “he’s recently grabbed ahold of a Thomas the Train fleece blanket,” she said.
Gordon went off of treatment for neuroblastoma in October 2018 and celebrated his first birthday in January.
To become a blanketeer or donate materials, visit the Project Linus website at www.projectlinus.org/volunteer under the Vermont chapter, or contact Joyce Irvine at firstname.lastname@example.org.