By Bethany Bray
---- — BEVERLY — Roughly 2,200 babies are born each year at Beverly Hospital, and each one goes home with a handmade cap.
The caps, along with sweaters, blankets and other items, are made and donated by a legion of volunteers, spread across the North Shore.
“Labor of love” is the perfect description of the process.
“It’s just a little donation of my time, to volunteer a bit,” said Lois Healey of Beverly, who has knit 1,200 baby caps in the last four years. “I’m happy to know that somebody is getting something out of what I’m doing. I’m delighted with that.”
In Beverly, a group of retired women — Knitters for Newborns — meet at the senior center once a week. The sound of conversation is accompanied by the click of knitting needles as the women turn piles of yarn into caps, scarfs, hats, mini-blankets and other items.
Some knit, some crochet — a craft most of them learned while they were in grade school.
They are quite an industrious group, making 1,200 caps in the span of a year, for babies born at Beverly and Salem hospitals. The other items, including lap blankets, scarfs and hats, go to hospice and charities for veterans, homeless and others.
Beverly Hospital also receives baby cap donations from a number of individuals who knit on their own and bring them in, said Jane Karaman, volunteer services manager for Northeast Hospitals. In addition to Knitters for Newborns, a group from Senior Care in Gloucester makes sweaters, hats, blankets and other items.
Karaman said she hears a constant stream of appreciative comments from newborn parents for such a personal, handmade item. Many of them become keepsakes and are tucked into baby books, she said.
“They appreciate it, I know they do,” Karaman said. “(I receive) many compliments on how wonderful it is to go home with a handmade item.”
Beverly resident Peggy Wilson started Knitters for Newborns at the Beverly Senior Center more than 10 years ago. Now retired, Wilson worked 40 years as a nurse in the maternity ward of Beverly Hospital, and had always knit caps during her working years.
“It’s very gratifying to know that we’re making something for a good purpose,” Wilson said. “We know we’re doing something for someone that they can enjoy.”
During the holiday season, the group makes caps with red and green yarn. For the rest of the year, it’s soft pastels.
Everything the group creates is made with donated yarn, dropped off by locals at the Beverly Senior Center. For hospice, the group makes “prayer squares,” a small textile for patients to hold, with a heart, cross or Star of David in the center.
The group fluctuates between 10 or 20 members on any given week, Wilson said. One member is blind, and “the most beautiful knitter you ever saw,” she said.
“It’s very social, very casual,” said Marie Lloyd of Beverly. “I like that there is a large range of people. ... It’s the camaraderie, really.”
Lloyd has crocheted since she was 8 years old, but is learning to knit from her friends at Knitters for Newborns.
“It’s not just people making stuff, we’re learning,” she said. “I learn so much (from the others), it’s incredible ... Everybody is welcome. It’s just a couple of hours to sit down and talk.”
Rita Geary knits on her own, at home, and brings her work into the Beverly Senior Center to add to the donations.
The items made for cancer patients are a personal endeavor for Geary, a cancer survivor herself.
“It makes you feel good, giving something back. And I have arthritis, so it keeps my hands moving,” she said. “It makes me feel good ... This is a good thing for me to do this.”
Healey said she is glad to help out in her own way, but deflected any accolade.
“No pats on the back for me. There are people doing so much more (volunteering) than I am,” Healey said.
“If anyone can knit and purl, they can make a hat, it’s that simple. ... It’s something to do — I don’t feel so guilty sitting here watching TV because I’m knitting, too,” she said.
Bethany Bray can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.
KNITTERS FOR NEWBORNS
To learn more, or get involved, call the Beverly Senior Center at 978-921-6017
Yarn donations are always needed (any type or color). Drop off donations at the senior center, 90 Colon St., Beverly