PUYALLUP – Nora Schindler’s mission is knitting and collecting hats to help keep premature babies, cancer patients and the homeless warm.
Since starting a “hat drive” ministry at Holy Disciples Parish in January 2014, Schindler has collected more than 2,600 hats of all sizes from her fellow parishioners and delivered them to St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.
“Whether they are cancer patients or homeless, these hats say that someone cares about them; it gives them dignity,” Schindler said. “You don’t need a Bill Gates wallet to improve the life of others.”
Schindler said she was spurred to action a few years ago while volunteering at the St. Vincent de Paul thrift store in Puyallup, where she met a former drug addict who told the story of her premature baby. The baby couldn’t be discharged from the hospital without wearing a hat, the doctor said. But the mother had no hat and no money to buy one, so the hospital staff scrounged up a used sock to cover the baby’s head.
Hat donors at Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup include Lolo Mills, left, Lena Cabusao, Patricia Zaragoza, Modesta Estibal, Nora Schindler (who started the ministry) and Mary Verdile. Photo: Courtesy Holy Disciples Parish
Newborn hats are much-needed at St. Joseph Medical Center “because we have a large population of homeless and low-income families and they would have nothing clean and new to take their babies home in,” said Rhoni Lewis, who works in the volunteer services department at the Tacoma hospital.
“A hat for a newborn can be made with only about 40 cents of yarn,” Schindler said, “and yet the [hospital] donation bin for hats for infants is frequently empty.”
Parishioners at Holy Disciples in Puyallup and its mission church, Our Lady of Good Counsel in Eatonville, work hard to fill the donation bins. They knit or buy hats of the quality “that you’d give to a family member or a friend,” Schindler said. The Eatonville members joined the effort in February, donating about 200 hats in the first month, half of them handmade.
Knitted and crocheted baby hats fill a collection basket at Holy Disciples Parish in Puyallup. The hats, made and donated by parishioners, will warm the heads of babies born at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma.
Schindler places each hat in a plastic baggie along with a printed note: “Please accept this gift of compassion from Holy Disciples Catholic Church.” The baggie is an extra gift for homeless recipients — they use it to keep toiletries or other items dry, Schindler said.
In the early days of the ministry, when donations were slim, Schindler grew discouraged. She remembers her pastor, Father Matthew O’Leary, offering encouraging words: “Even one hat can improve a life.”
Today, Schindler hopes to inspire other parishes to start similar ministries. “It’s easy to start a hat drive,” she said. “The hardest part is choosing the organization to give them to.”
Schindler keeps track of the hat count to encourage fellow parishioners in their work. Their efforts gained recognition by St. Joseph Medical Center, which presented Holy Disciples Parish with a certificate of appreciation in March 2015.
“It’s been very encouraging to see what’s happened with this idea,” Father O’Leary said. “In this simplicity there is a lot of love and a lot of big hearts. Simple acts of kindness make the day more than any other.”
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