2018-07-01 / Insight

‘Blankie Project’ has donated thousands of items to comfort dementia patients

BY NICHOLAS PUGLIESE
810-452-2601 • npugliese @mihomepaper.com


Official Blankie Project distributor to veterans Mike Omstead receives a blankie from group founder Lorraine Suva that will make its way to a veteran in need. 
Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Official Blankie Project distributor to veterans Mike Omstead receives a blankie from group founder Lorraine Suva that will make its way to a veteran in need. Photo by Nicholas Pugliese LAPEER — Lorraine Suva’s best friend was afflicted with Alzheimer’s disease over a decade ago, and like many who see loved ones struggle with the degenerate brain disease, she felt helpless. The disease progressed quickly, and Suva watched as her best friend lost the ability to speak and begin clawing at herself. That’s when Suva found a way to help — and she’s never stopped.

Suva crafted a quilt that kept her friend’s hands busy, an idea that had immediate positive benefit. The handcrafted quilt never left her friend’s side, and in the intervening years since, Suva and her group of roughly a dozen volunteers, dubbed the Blankie Project, have created thousands of items that have been donated to dementia patients throughout the area and country. Some have even ended up across the globe.

Blankie Project volunteers Christine Hinton and Nancy Oller shows off some of the handsewn activity books crafted for Alzheimer’s patients.Photo by Nicholas Pugliese Blankie Project volunteers Christine Hinton and Nancy Oller shows off some of the handsewn activity books crafted for Alzheimer’s patients.Photo by Nicholas Pugliese “I don’t care who you are, you’re going to get the blankie spiel,” said Suva during one of her group’s meet-ups in Lapeer. “It may be obnoxious, but it’s for a purpose.”

The Blankie Project’s primary craft are blankets, evolved from the original quilt Suva created years ago. She and her volunteers now insert malleable plastic inside each blanket, that when handled, creates an audible crinkle — a tactile effect that serves to distract sufferers of Alzheimer’s disease. “A lot of the time they’ll get agitated, (the blankets) will give them something to pull on and look at,” said volunteer Christine Hinton.

In addition to the blankets, The Blankie Project create tote bags, catheter bag holders, bibs and even “activity books” — handsewn books with pockets, flaps and crinkling materials that provide Alzheimer’s Disease patients “something to fidget with,” said Suva.

According to Suva, she estimates that The Blankie Project has crafted more than 4,000 items. “I didn’t keep track of records, I just got busy,” said Suva. “I made the first one for my friend, then started getting requests, and it grew and grew.”

Suva didn’t just get a few requests. After the project attracted the attention of a few magazines, Suva received more than 700 letters from across the United States, Canada and Europe. She answered them all individually.

Everything the group creates is completely free, crafted from donated materials. “Anything we do, we’re a free place, no money ever changes hands,” she said. Individuals and businesses donate materials or time, and each item is crafted by a volunteer. “This is a program where we give everything, but we get more back,” said Suva.

One such volunteer, Mike Omstead, has been performing a specific job for Suva and her crew for a decade. Thanks to Omstead, who is a Vietnam War veteran and the commander of the American Legion in Brighton, Suva’s blankets have found their way into the hands of hundreds of veteran dementia patients across the country. Omstead, along with fellow veterans, organize motorcycle trips to deliver the blankets, and have made treks to Florida, South Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, South Dakota and even Walter Reed Military Medical Center in Maryland. “Through the grapevine, we got in contact,” said Suva.

Suva’s not planning on hanging it up anytime soon, but at 88 years old, she said she’s slowing down — but she’ll be leaving The Blankie Project in good hands. “We recently drafted Christine (Hinton) and she’s got a lot of energy, this would have no value if we couldn’t get it out into the public,” said Suva. “I’m so proud of these people and when you come into this group, you feel the love.”

The Blankie Project meets from 10 a.m. to noon on the fourth Tuesday of each month at Lapeer Trinity United Methodist Church on 1310 N. Main St. in Lapeer. For more information, including donation and volunteer inquiries, contact Christine Hinton at 303-888-2997.

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