On Christmas morning, families in need across Evanston opened presents of hand-knit clothing, all thanks to a small group of dedicated knitters at a Wilmette retirement community.
For the holidays, members of the knitting group at the Mather Place of Wilmette donated over 160 pieces of hand-knit, cold-weather gear to the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, a local nonprofit offering family support services.
The goods were used to supplement the nonprofit’s program, in which one Evanston family assists with the specific needs of another Evanston family, whether that entails buying food, clothing, furniture or individualized Christmas presents.
“Mather contacted me, saying, ‘We have all of these knitted hats and scarves that we would like to donate to needy families,’” said Jennifer Riskind, director of development at the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston. “Some of the donors buy more for a family than other donors. So things like the donated hats and scarves, or other toys that we have donated … we use to fill in so that each family gets roughly a similar amount of things.”
Mather’s donation amounts to nearly a full year’s worth of work for the knitting circle, which gathers at least once a week for a group knitting session.
The group has made similar contributions during each holiday season for “more than a dozen years,” but this is the first time the group has donated to an Evanston charity. In past years, New Trier Township has been the recipient and distributor of the retirement community’s offering several times.
Fay Saltzman, one of the Mather knitters who contributed to this year’s donation, said that she picked up the habit for the first time since she was a kid when she joined the group seven months ago. The 78-year-old former Chicago Public Schools primary grade teacher said she joined the group because it gave her and others a way to contribute to those in needs, even from the comfort of a couch or a patio chair.
“That’s the only reason I would do it,” Saltzman said. “I wasn’t going to just knit. … They’re doing something constructive and that’s wonderful. They don’t complain about aches or pains or arthritis, which everybody has. Some of the most beautiful work is done by the most seasoned people. This is a wonderful place to be.”
Saltzman said the work benefits the knitters, as well.
“I think it’s a wonderful thing,” Saltzman continued. “It keeps everybody vital. It’s something to do. I find it relaxing. The more I get into it, the more I like it.”
In addition to the hand-knits given to the needy families, the circle recently made 15 small blankets known as lap robes, for Mather residents. The group also has a sizeable amount of clothing it is still looking to donate, though a Mather representative said that the remaining garb would likely go to the Infant Welfare Society of Evanston, as well.
The Infant Welfare Society of Evanston comprises a “Baby Toddler Nursery” daycare and early education center, a “Teen Baby Nursery” for children ages six weeks to three-years-old with mothers at Evanston Township High School, and a “Family Support Program,” in which case workers provide parent support and stress relief for families through intensive home visits. The nonprofit has been operating locally since 1913 and says it has served 400 local families, mostly in Evanston, but occasionally in Chicago or Skokie.