Sara Swanson

The Chain Gang – providing comfort and warmth to premies, veterans, and cancer patients

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Premie hats knitted by the Chain Gang waiting in Pyramid Office Supply and Emporium to go to U of M Mott's NICU.

Premie hats knitted by the Chain Gang waiting in Pyramid Office Supply and Emporium to go to U of M Mott’s NICU.

You may be familiar with Pyramid Office Supply and Emporium on Main Street as the place to buy school supplies or to ship UPS or even to get your digital photos printed, but unless you have ventured to the far back of the store in search of yarn, you may not be aware that Christine Baisden, who has worked with owner Maan Baki for many years, manages a large charity network out of the back of the store. It’s called the Chain Gang. The Chain Gang is a loose organization of crocheters and knitters who make premie caps for premature babies, chemo caps and prayer shawls (shawls which will be blessed by a minister) for those going through cancer treatments, and lapghans (4’x4’ afghans) and slippers for veterans.

Over 100 official members have joined the Chain Gang since it started in 2007 or 2008, although, Christine pointed out, they’ve lost some members due to age and health. Members have access to free patterns, take them home and knit or crochet whatever they want to, and bring back their projects at their own convenience. As many of the Chain Gang members are older and some are housebound, often finished projects are dropped off by caregivers or helpful neighbors and family members, Christine sorts and stockpiles the knitted and crocheted projects until they are picked up by the other side of the network, those who make the deliveries to her contacts at the hospitals.

Premie hats, usually 300 at a time, are delivered to the Brandon Newborn Intensive Care Unit at the University of Michigan Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, as well as to Bixby Hospital in Adrian. Christine has a measuring system and hats too big to be premie hats but too small to be chemo caps are hats that would fit babies and children. These are distributed to foster children in the Foster Care of Michigan system and to the Manchester Ladies Society, right here in town, for their Manchester Baby Baskets that are distributed to pregnant women living in our area. Some baby hats have been distributed to Beaumont Hospital in Troy and even to a hospital in West Virginia.

Christine explained that everything balances out, as she received a box full of hats in the mail from a woman who had learned about the Chain Gang while visiting someone in Manchester and returned home to West Virginia. Chemo caps and prayer shawls are delivered to the U of M Comprehensive Cancer Center and St Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor. Chemo Caps and lapghans and slippers go to the VA Hospital in Ann Arbor. The Chain Gang has even started making hats for adult homeless men at the Mercy House in Ann Arbor. Christine keeps a book full of the thank you notes that come in the mail. She pulls it out every time a Chain Gang member comes into the store to show them the new ones. She makes copies for the members who can’t come in themselves and sends them with the neighbors and family members. She has come to recognize that it isn’t just the recipients of the knitted and crocheted items that benefit from the project, but for some of the Chain Gang members, creating these items for others in need is providing a new purpose in their lives.

Beyond just collecting finished products, Christine has set up a yarn donation system for her members who can’t afford to buy the yarn. She has tubs in the back of the store where she collects donated yarn, and Chain Gang members can take yarn from the tubs to use in their Chain Gang projects. Christine has had other organizations, like Worth Repeating, donate bags of yarn at a time to go out to her members.

Lapghan crocheted by Gen.

Lapghan crocheted by Gen.

Beyond donations of actual yarn, Christine has received monetary donations for the group. Jean Johnson was one of the Chain Gang’s most active members, providing not just hats, but producing patterns to be distributed to the group for free. When she passed away, her daughter asked that donations in her memory be made to the Chain Gang. Christine keeps her photo in the back to show to Chain Gang members.

That memorial money and other donations have been used to purchase specific yarn that is requested by members that can’t be as easily filled by donated yarn. Genevieve (Gen) is 92 year old and crochets on average fifteen 4’x4’ lapghans for the Veterans Hospital a month. She likes to crochet in worsted weight yarn but needs donated yarn. Christine explained that often, donated money is used to buy red, white and blue worsted weight yarn for Gen.

Shirley holding a few of her bears. Photo courtesy of Christine Baisden.

Shirley holding a few of her bears. Photo courtesy of Christine Baisden.

The Chain Gang is constantly adding to its mission as members bring new ideas and opportunities to help those who need comfort. Shirley, a 91 year old member, began sending in with her aide Wendy or her pastor, teddy bears she makes with fabric scraps. She currently making enough to send 30 a month to U of M’s Brandon NICU for welcome baskets for the families of premies and the Chain Gang is hoping to be able to send another 30 a month to the foster system. This is on top of the bears she provides to the Manchester Ladies Society for Manchester Baby Baskets and the bears she sends to organizations in Jackson. Shirley has used any fabric she could get hold of, but it wasn’t easy for her to get enough. So Christine reached out to quilters she knows and now through donations of quilting scraps, the Chain Gang provides Shirley ample fabric and batting for her bears.

Christine stated that there was no one way to be a member, she gave a few examples. Pauline Parcher has been with the Chain Gang for five years and makes 50 premie hats month. The oldest member is Sally Olive who is 97 years old and lives in the retirement community in Chelsea. Sally has knitted all her whole life, knitting 240 baby sweaters before moving to the 40 hats she has knitted so far for the Chain Gang.

But you do not need to be a crocheter or knitter to get involved. Christine used her “right hand woman” Kris Warner, a retired registered nurse, as an example. Kris comes in and sits for hours at a time tagging everything other than premie caps with information about the group, materials used in the item and care instructions so the recipient knows how to wash it. Kris delivers hats to U of M. Jill Holmquist and Jerry Miller, her delivery drivers for the veterans hospital are two more non-knitting members.

Christine in the yarn section of Pyramid.

Christine in the yarn section of Pyramid.

When asked how many hats and other items go out through her doors a month, Christine can’t even guess. And she doesn’t want to. The numbers aren’t what is important to her–it’s the photos and the thank yous she receives and the stories she hears from the recipients. She told a story about a woman who had received a prayer shawl while going through chemo and was so comforted and moved by it that she wanted to purchase seven for family members and friends who were all battling cancer themselves. Christine explained that they were not for sale, but that if she wanted to come to the store, she could pick seven shawls and hats from the current supply that had yet to go to the hospital.

A few days later, the woman had her husband drive her out to Manchester and she picked out shawls and hats. Christine wouldn’t let her pay for them but she did end up donating money to be used to buy more yarn for more shawls and hats.

Christine gives every one who comes in and is interested in yarn the rundown on the Chain Gang. There is no fee or commitment to join–all you have to do is knit or crochet one item to donate and you can be a member of the Chain Gang! If you have questions, want to join, or are able to help with deliveries, stop in at Pyramid Office Supply and talk to Christine.

Correction 5-6-2016: This article originally stated that Gen “knits” lapghans for veterans but has been corrected to “crochets.”

Premie hats

Premie hats crocheted in seasonal themes. These three are St. Patrick Day themed. Quite a few will be knitted and crocheted in red, white and blue for babies born around the 4th of July.

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Premie hats can be knitted or crocheted in any type yarn from cotton to baby-soft wool to acrylic.

The Chain Gang has partnered with other local groups. Peggy Allen brought in boxes full of hats, lapghans and homemade clothes including these hats made by Lions Club members.

The Chain Gang has partnered with other local groups. Peggy Allen brought in boxes full of hats, lapghans and homemade clothes, including these hats made by Lions Club members.

A bag of Shirley's bears waiting to go to the hospital.

A bag of Shirley’s bears waiting to go to the hospital.

Hats for men are always in short supply and high demand.

Hats for men are always in short supply and high demand.

More hats!

More hats!

Christine keeps a big binder of all of the thank you received by the group so any member who comes in can look through it.

Christine keeps a big binder of all of the thank yous received by the group, so any member who comes in can look through it.

 

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