Chimney Hill residents spread love, stitch by stitch

Chimney Hill residents spread love, stitch by stitch

CUMBERLAND - Armed with knitting needles and baskets of yarn, a coalition of "blanketeers" has formed at Chimney Hill Apartments to get handmade gifts in the hands of children in need.

It is led by Lucille Benjamin, a 93-year-old woman who has crocheted more than 125 blankets over the past six years for patients at Hasbro Children's Hospital through Project Linus, an Illinois-based organization run by volunteers who seek new, handmade and washable blankets for ill and traumatized children.

Benjamin, known as "Benji" to her friends, learned to crochet as a teenager when she was a nanny for two girls in the 1930s. She's now responsible for a knitting group at the apartments off Mendon Road, where members get together every Tuesday afternoon.

Members include Barbara Palmigiano, Helene Chartier, Theresa Levesque, Theresa Tanguay, Margaret Chadwick, Ruth Vandal and Connie Morin.

"Benji's the teacher," said Palmigiano. "It's lots of fun. We talk, we laugh."

She and Chartier, originally from East Providence and Woonsocket, respectively, joked about Benjamin has a sharp eye for mistakes and a willingness to take apart half a blanket to fix it.

Benjamin, a Woonsocket native who has lived at Chimney Hill for 14 years, shrugged.

"If you're going to do it, do it right," she said.

Members of the group certainly cannot argue with Benjamin's success; she averages between three and four blankets a month, she said.

"I keep busy," Benjamin explained, showing off her woven basket full of yarn and a half-completed blanket, as well as rows of yarn stacked behind it.

"This is my area. I crochet from the time I wake up until noon," she said, joking that with closets full of supplies, she has more yarn than Walmart.

"We'll have to come shop in your apartment," Palmigiano said.

Benjamin said crocheting has been keeping her hands and mind sharp.

"As you stop learning, your brain deteriorates," she said. "These girls are learning new patterns."

She also keeps a ball of yarn nearby for finger exercises. After having surgery on her hands, Benjamin tried using exercise balls to keep her fingers strong, but the balls were too difficult to squeeze. Yarn is much more forgiving, she said, demonstrating how it has the right amount of both resistance and give.

But more than just enjoying their hobbies, the women said they feel good about where the final products end up. Chartier said after her granddaughter came home from Hasbro with a gift, she knows how happy the donations make the kids.

"It makes you feel good because you're doing something nice for somebody else," Palmigiano said.

Benjamin said she likes knowing the blankets are a source of comfort.

"The children, they like to cuddle with their blankets," she said.

Palmigiano agreed.

"That's a thing of love for them," she said.