Warm and fuzzy

A group of Northeast ladies formed The Warm Keepers, a group that makes blankets for people in need.

Spreading the love: (From left) Lynne Bissett, Naomi Shestack, Donna Shade and Arlene Tafler knit blankets for the needy in Torresdale. LOGAN KRUM / TIMES PHOTO

If last week’s temperatures were any indication, it’s going to be a sweltering summer in Northeast Philadelphia. Still, a group of senior ladies in the area didn’t stop knitting blankets, hats and afghans to keep less fortunate people warm.

The Warm Keepers started donating clothing to shelters, hospitals and schools about a year ago, and estimate they’ve helped out hundreds of people in that time. Their items have gone toward homeless veterans, hospital patients, shivering school students and more.

Arlene Tafler, Donna Shade, Naomi Shestack and Lynne Bissett are four of the Warm Keepers, and estimate they can knit or crochet one hat a night. (“It gives me an excuse to watch television,” Shade joked.) There are about seven or eight members total.

They got started when Tafler’s neighbor at Baker’s Bay Condominiums in Torresdale told her that her daughter worked at Southeastern Pennsylvania Veterans Center, where 33 veterans with Alzheimer’s were lodged. She asked if they would make lap blankets for the veterans.

“Bingo, that’s how it started,” Tafler said. “It’s such a good feeling when you see smiles on their faces, I cannot tell you. It blossomed from there.”

Tafler, who had recruited the other ladies and more, decided she didn’t want to give up that feeling.

Since then, they’ve made stops at Delaware Center for Homeless Veterans, Veterans Multi-Service Center and Eleanor C. Emlen Elementary School in East Mount Airy, among others.

Their trip to Emlen School came about when Tafler’s granddaughter introduced them to the school. They talked to the school’s community partnership coordinator, who mentioned most of the student body qualified for reduced or free lunch, and thought they might be in need of extra winter wear.

“Between us, we made over a hundred hats,” Tafler said.

The 8th Police District donated another hundred.

“When they saw us pour those hats on the table, the teachers and the staff couldn’t believe what they were seeing,” Tafler said. “Is that not a good feeling?

Their services extend beyond giving out hats and blankets. They pick up items like socks and toothpaste whenever they visit dollar stores and include them in the bags. They package their blankets and hats into bags so that the recipients feel like they are getting gifts.

The ladies are using the warmer weather to continue knitting and crocheting in preparation of the fall and winter.

“It makes us feel as good as how they feel receiving it,” Shestack said.

Their favorite part is seeing the reactions of those receiving the hats and being able to mingle with them. They try to collect photographs of everyone using one of their items.

The group will donate gently used clothing, but much prefer giving clothing and blankets they made themselves, saying donating the used clothing “accidentally happened” afterward.

“The bigger thing for us is we’re knitting the hats and afghans ourselves,” Bissett said. “This woman got an afghan I made, and to actually see her with it on was incredible.”

Giving clothing has become a huge part of Tafler’s life. She recounted being on vacation in Texas and spotting a wheelchaired veteran in an Aldi.

“I said are you a veteran, and he said yes,” she said. “And I said, you don’t have a lap blanket? You should be ashamed of yourself.”

She asked for his name and address, and said she would send him a blanket — on the condition he’d send her a picture of him wearing it in return.

He did.

“We appreciate them, and they can’t say thank you enough,” Tafler said.

If someone wants to donate gently used clothing, the Warm Keepers encourage them to reach out directly to the shelter of their choice rather than through them. ••