Cold weather is on its way, but that's just additional inspiration for members of the Blanket Brigade at the St. Clairsville Senior Center.
For the past several years, this spirited group of seniors has gathered on a monthly basis to make specially crafted fleece blankets, which they donate to local groups or charitable organizations that need them.
"It's part of the outreach program the senior center does for the community," said Daisy Braun, coordinator of the St. Clairsville Senior Center.
Blanket Brigade volunteer coordinator Sheila Lokosky displays one of the eye-catching blankets personalized by the crew at the St. Clairsville Senior Center.
Sheila Lokosky, volunteer coordinator of the Blanket Brigade, said the effort stemmed from crafting events held by church members in Warnock.
"They showed us how to do the blankets, and it became a regular project at the senior center about six or seven years ago," said Lokosky, who is a former director of the St. Clairsville Senior Center and current exercise guru at the center, in addition to being the spearhead behind the Blanket Brigade program.
The Blanket Brigade is made up of members of the center who volunteer to roll up their sleeves on the third Tuesday of each month and make the blankets. Material for the hand-crafted blankets typically comes in kits that have different patterns.
Lokosky said they are always on the lookout for special deals on materials such as buy-one, get-one free promotions at Joann Fabrics. Materials for the fleece blankets come in different sizes, and the Brigade members cut and tie the fringe with different knots to make each blanket a unique creation made with "TLC."
"It's like an old-fashioned quilting bee," Lokosky said of the blanket-making sessions. "We have a good time."
Everyone on the Blanket Brigade takes on a different role. Some like cutting, some like measuring and some like tying. Even those with limited mobility get to enjoy making blankets. The "Queen Bee" crew - which includes some members 90 years young - has specialized in the "singles" made for hospice patients.
Blankets made by the Blanket Brigade are washable, very sturdy and snuggly warm.
Regular donations of blankets are made to Help Me Grow, Miracle of Life, the Oakview boys group home and Crittenton Services. Other regular donations have been made to area hospice providers, as well as special donations of blankets made on a case-by-case basis.
"It's pretty much wherever we see a need," Lokosky said. "We make sure our donations stay in the local community."
The latest donation made by the Blanket Brigade went to Crossroads Counseling Services' New Outlook Center. New Outlook is a local halfway house providing residential treatment for men who are struggling with alcohol or drug addiction. Residents there are either self-admitted or court-ordered to enroll in the treatment program.
Officials at Crossroads said the blankets were a welcome donation, noting that there is typically more funding available for the women's treatment program than the men's treatment program. Many of the men who are in treatment often don't have much in the way of material possessions, they said.
"The gentlemen at New Outlook will love these," said Angela Freeman, program manager at New Outlook. "We're very, very appreciative."
Freeman and Sandra Nicholoff, executive director at Crossroads, visited the St. Clairsville Senior Center to pick up blankets for the men at New Outlook.
"Thank you so much. We very much appreciate it," Nicholoff told the Blanket Brigade.
The blankets are so popular, the women and men of the Blanket Brigade are sometimes approached by individuals who simply want to purchase one or learn how to make one themselves. They are always willing to accommodate and welcome volunteers who want to stop by and help out. Some folks have brought in their own material for blankets they want made. Any proceeds from the sale of blankets goes back to the center.
Right now, the Blanket Brigade has its plate full with regular donations. "We keep pretty busy," Lokosky said.
The St. Clairsville Senior Center is located in the former Thoburn United Methodist Church building on the corner of North Market Street and Newell Avenue, behind the Belmont County courthouse.
For more information on the Blanket Brigade or any of the activities that take place at the St. Clairsville Senior Center, call the center at 740- 695-1944.