Blankets for the homeless

UConn Community Outreach arranged a day of service in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. for hundreds of volunteers to observe the holiday and many constructed blankets for local homeless shelters. (Francesca Colturi, Assoc. Life Editor)

Volunteers took their day off and spent their time in service of others in honor of Martin Luther King Jr. on Monday by piecing together thick, fuzzy blankets for Connecticut’s homeless.

UConn Community Outreach coordinated a day of service on the national holiday for students, inviting faculty and alumni to donate warm, handmade blankets to people without heat or shelter this winter.

Volunteers comprised of UConn’s Residence Hall Association, its National Residence Hall Honorary, its Jumpstart members, Community Outreach members and caring students alike, met in the Student Union to build these blankets.

“Since it is MLK day (homelessness) is something he focused on especially in the later part of his life so that’s something we could tie in for people about his teachings,” Brittany Chiu, a sixth-semester psychology major said. She is one of the Community Outreach student leaders who imagined and coordinated this gathering.

“We all experience inclement weather, so we know how cold that really is,” Chiu said. “And we try to give back to the community the best we can.”

No sewing expertise was required for the colorful “no-sew” blankets made, as groups of volunteers layered large pieces of fleece and tied the edges together in countless fringed knots.

Following the first blanket-making gathering in December, over 50 warm blankets were produced on Monday and donated to the Willimantic Area Interfaith Ministry and Holy Family Home & Shelter, also in Willimantic.

“I think it’s really empowering that people are taking this day off to actually put in work. Like we have over 200 people signed up and showed up,” said Jessie Du, senior finance major and Community Outreach student leader. “This is my first time running it, seeing all these people come in – they also come in early, they arrive early.”

“And they’re happy,” Chiu added.

Leann McLaren, fourth-semester history and political science major, returned this past week from an alternative break in Birmingham, Alabama where she and other UConn students helped build halfway houses for the homeless and Habitat for Humanity and also worked at food banks.

She and other students decided to sign up together to contribute their service again.

“Specifically today, the event was done because it is Martin Luther King Day – but I think it’s a big motivation, especially because the trip I did made civil rights even more important to me,” McLaren said. “It already is just because it’s part of my cultural history but also because it’s service and a good way to honor what he did.”

Liz Netz, a school counselor in Bristol, graduated in 2010 from UConn’s School of Education and returned to help those in need on her holiday.

“I remember how much work they really put into these types of programs so I wanted to give back to the community outreach and the university and to, just society,” Netz said.

She took part in the no-sew blanket making after joining other volunteers for a crocheting gathering earlier in the day on Monday, where they also piecing together blankets for the homeless.

“A lot of teachers say ‘oh we got a day off Monday. I’m just going to sleep in,’ But I’ve been doing this the past two years now… I figure a day on, not a day off,” Netz said.


Francesca Colturi is associate life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at francesca.colturi@uconn.edu.