Rhetoric Into Action

Strangers Helping Strangers with Diapers

A kind act happened recently at a Walmart in Loveland.

While a young couple was counting their money to see if they had enough to pay for diapers for their young daughter, another couple who were strangers offered to pay for them. The strangers paid for the diapers and everything in the cart, explaining that people have helped them and they were just paying it forward.

This random act of kindness and help from strangers prompted the young couple to share this story with the local news in hopes of spreading the word. A simple gesture can mean so much to other people, so let’s pay it forward!

Have you paid it forward? Or experienced a pay it forward moment?

Help Send Diapers To Hurricane Sandy Victims

Lots of people have been asking us how they can help families with babies and toddlers in the North East who may be running out of clean diapers after Hurricane Sandy.  Now we have something we can recommend.

Diapers.com has partnered with nonprofits on the ground in the area like The American Red Cross and the Jersey Humane Society to send supplies to the hardest hit families.  You can help by sending financial donations through a specific section of their site, diapers.com/sandy.  Select a dollar amount, and that money will be used to buy essentials like diapers, baby food, formula, and clothing for families in storm-ravaged areas.  There is no shipping fee.

Remember, you might not be able to do everything.  But you can do something.  And every little bit helps.

Who We Serve

Since inception we’ve distributed diapers to a number of organizations in California and elsewhere in the U.S.  Between January, 2011 and January, 2012 we served families through the following agencies. Thank you to everyone who contributed to making this happen! Special thanks go to our friends at Huggies Every Little Bottom and St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County. 

Southern California

  • Ascencia (LA County)
  • Building a Generation (Inland Empire)
  • LA Diaper Drive (LA County)
  • Salvation Army,East Los Angeles Community Center (LA County)
  • Bayside Community Center (San Diego County)

Northern California

Alameda & Contra Costa Counties

  • Brighter Beginnings
  • Center for the Vulnerable Child (Children’s Hospital of Oakland)
  • Oakland Early Head Start
  • St. Vincent de Paul of Alameda County (West Oakland Women’s Center)
  • Operation Shower
  • Prenatal Care Guidance (PCG), a program of the Contra Costa Public Health Dept.
  • Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center (WDDC)

Monterey County

  • Monterey County Association of Families Caring for Children

San Francisco County

  • Homeless Prenatal Program (HPP)
  • Bayview Mission
  • APA Family Support Services (APA)

San Mateo and Santa Clara Counties

  • Baby Basics of the Peninsula
  • Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford (Social Services)
  • Star Vista (formerly YFES)
  • Creation Home Ministries
  • West Valley Community Services
  • City Team Ministries, San Jose
  • EHC Lifebuilders

Please Read: Leave it to the Big O, aka my Oprah story

A mother whose child did not yet have medical insurance had to use the last of her money to pay for medicine. This left her without money for diapers so we gave her a few days supply. Those diapers made all the difference.

~ Peggy, Social Worker

Dear Friends,

Before I co-founded Help A Mother Out (HAMO) I was a stay at home mom, focused on raising my two young children (then ages 9 months and 3 years old). I remember poring over countless parenting books and blogs, and fretting about whether my kids were getting enough sleep, nutrition, and intellectually stimulating experiences. And while I wasn’t keenly aware of it then, I now know that my husband and I are extremely blessed to be able to provide the most basic needs for our kids.

On a day in February 2009, after viewing the Oprah Winfrey show about how the Great Recession was impacting struggling families, I knew I had to do something to help. My first thought was to host a children’s clothing drive, but after reaching out to a handful of social service agencies, I learned about diaper need. The thought of a young child spending the entire day in the same diaper just broke my heart. I quickly learned that reliable access to diapers is the cornerstone for healthy babies, healthy communities, and a family’s ability to thrive.

Everyday I am grateful that HAMO gets to do something about this problem. Everyday I am in awe that a home grown project with a start up investment of $100, could help so many struggling families, as well as inspire action in many others (including many of you!). Together we have done a lot of good. Nearly 750K diapers have been distributed through our network of partners, including homeless centers, family resource centers, public health departments, and food pantries. Equally important, we have raised awareness and advocated for needy families. And, we’ve accomplished all of this on a tiny budget.

We are proud of our accomplishments, but the truth is our organization has a lot of work ahead of us. Our vision is a day when every baby has an adequate supply of diapers, and for every agency we have been able to help, we have had to turn two away due to lack of resources. Advocating for and getting diapers to families in need takes real financial resources. We are inviting you to “adopt” Help A Mother Out this holiday season.

For us to do our crucial work we need funds to pay for general operating and program expenses. You may think that your gift of $30, $50, $100, or any amount that is meaningful to you, may be just a drop in the bucket, but in reality, your help is actually what makes this whole operation possible. Since we started Help A Mother Out, 85-percent of monetary gifts collected have come from individuals like you.

Thank you for helping us to help more mothers, children, and caregivers in 2012.

Wishing you and your family peace, joy and abundance,

Lisa Truong, co-founder, executive director

On behalf of the entire Help A Mother Out family and network

p.s. We are pleased and very grateful to announce between November and December 31st, our friends at Huggies Every Little Bottom will match your monetary gift for unrestricted funds, with an in kind diaper donation – up to 300K diapers. Your timing doesn’t get any better to help.Thank you for your generosity and believing in our work.

What I’m Doing With My #BlogHer11 Swag #hamo

Are we friends yet? We’d be delighted for you to join us on Facebook.

There is always so much a do about The Swag at #BlogHer. Some of it really swell and useful, others conjure up the thought “what were they smoking when they came up with this idea?” I’m not naming brands here, but if you’ve been on the expo floor, you know what I’m talking about.

Being in this line of work makes you think a lot about “stuff.” The haves and the have nots, and the incredible amount of stuff that is present at a conference where brands are trying their darnedest to grab the attention of highly influential household decision makers (go women!). Kudos to the folks behind BlogHer whose efforts to reduce waste are commendable.

The Sunday after the conference I went through all the swag I procured. I was judicious with what I accepted at the expo hall, really keeping an eye on practical everyday items. Being someone who did not attend many of the private parties, my guess is that I hadn’t accumulated much stuff compared to other conference attendees.

Anyways, the only thing I ended up wanting to save for my household was a children’s dvd for the kids. The rest of the stuff I decided to take home to donate to a partner agency.

Here’s the swag I’m donating this week:

  • (30) reusable shopper bags – thanks to the BlogHer swag exchange, these will go to homeless moms, many of whom had to leave their homes with only the clothes on their backs. You cannot see all 30 bags as they are stuffed into other bags.
  • (2) pairs of flip flops – great to wear in shower at the homeless shelter
  • (3) notepads + pens – useful to write down appointments and information
  • (1) box of mints – portable personal hygiene
  • (2) pocket mirrors – portable personal hygiene
  • (1) large nail buffer/file – portable personal hygiene
  • (1) coupon for a free item at Micky D’s
  • (1) coupon for a free bag of chips
  • (1) sample of breakfast cereal
  • (1) pouch of baby food – convenient on the go, healthy food
  • (2) canisters of black tea – homeless shelter kitchen
  • (1) t shirt
  • (2) tubes of lotion – portable personal hygiene
  • (2) tubes of toothpaste – portable personal hygiene
  • (2) travel sized child’s herbal cold and cough medicine – portable medicine
  • (2) packs of salt water taffy – just in time for Halloween festivities at the homeless center
  • (2) travel shampoos and lotions (not pictured) – incredibly useful to families in transition

Our partner agency will pick up these items along with their normal diaper delivery, which makes me really happy that I lugged all this swag home. It was really fun thinking about swag in terms of what I could donate and if it would be useful to the families we serve.

Will you join me next year?

Thank You: Southern Marin Mother’s Club

A few weeks ago HAMO was invited to attend the Southern Marin Mother’s Club annual bbq. It was a lovely, down home, carnival-themed affair. They had a clown, cotton candy, airbrush tattoos, and the requisite jumpy house.

Cool tie-in with their diaper drive?

Dunk tank.

For every diaper or monetary donation to HAMO, attendees (many of them children) got a ticket for a chance to dunk one of the club’s board members in the dunk tank! It was just a fun activity, probably not for the dunkeee, but still. How cool was that?

Special thanks to Molly and Adrienne of SMMC for all of their efforts to include HAMO in this wonderful event. In the end SMMC collected 1,324 diapers + 2000 wipes + diapering funds. We were honored to share the afternoon with you all!

Are we friends yet? We hope you will join us over on Facebook!

SoCal: #BlogHer11 Virtual Diaper Drive #hamo

This coming week some of the team will be at BlogHer ’11.

In case you haven’t heard, we’re hosting a service project to coincide with the conference, in hopes of raising much needed diaper funds we’d like to raise to benefit our Southern California families. Specifically, we have three agencies located in San Diego, Inland Empire, and east Los Angeles, who are currently on the waiting list to receive diapers.

Whether you are attending the conference or not, you can help us make a difference.

Bonus: We’re giving away an iPad, generously donated by our friends at Momversation, to one lucky online donor. And as of this writing, your chances look really good to win!

How you can help:

Spread the word about our virtual diaper drive. Official rules and more good stuff can be found via our event page.

Your online gift of $10 or more enters you to our iPad giveaway contest. Go ahead, click the BLUE button and help a mother out!

5 Ways You Can Help A Mother Out In 2011

How are your new years resolutions going?

One of our resolutions is to get better at asking for help. We’re a small grassroots organization trying to make a big impact in the lives of families during one of the worst economic catastrophes of our time.

An acquaintance of mine recently remarked “I can’t imagine a WORST time to start a non profit. It must be awful for you.” Well, I guess in many respects,  he  is right. Foundation and individual philanthropy is down. Non profits must compete for scarce funding. Many say it isn’t pretty time in the not profit sector.

But for me, I look at it from the perspective of the families we serve. Social service agencies are having their budgets slashed. Children cannot wait for the economic recession to be over before they have access to a clean diaper. This is the most crucial time to give back to our communities and ensure children have what they need to thrive.

For all the wonderful news and impact we’ve been grateful to accomplish since starting, there is much, much more work to be done. For each partner agency we’ve been honored to provide diapers to, there are several we must turn away simply because we do not have enough diapers to sustain the great need.

Well. We’re here to stay, regardless of whether or not it’s a good time to be.

How can you help? Here are some ideas …

1) Host a Diaper Drive

Whether it’s with your playgroup, MOPS, preschool, K-12 school, the office, civic group, or you’re just plain having a party, a diaper drive is an easy way to give back and directly help our families who are struggling to provide diapers for their babies. Our free diaper drive toolkit can be used to help you get started with ideas, and we have a handy donation bin sign you can use to place on a donation bin. For inspiration click herehere, or here.

2) Host a Fundraiser

Every organization needs funds to operate. We need them too. Hosting a fundraiser, however large or intimate, is an easy and direct way to help our families. As a volunteer-run non profit, 100% of the funds we collect are puts towards our diaper program.  Our 2011 goals include building up our safety net fund, so we may continue to efficiently supply our distribution network of partner agencies with the diapers they need, in the sizes they need most. For inspiration read this post about a group of women who were already coming together for a clothing swap, and suggested a “cover charge” to help us buy diapers.

3) Volunteer

We’re volunteer run, and it’s a cadre of thoughtful volunteers who have helped us accomplish so much since 2009. Aside from the above, our current volunteer needs consist primarily of outreach and development. From getting the word out to the community about our call for diaper drives, producing outreach materials, helping us post events online, researching grants and partnerships, helping us with event planning – if you’d like to contribute your skills to help us continue the momentum, we’d love to hear from you.

4) Become a Fairy God Mother

Don’t have time to help in the above ways? We recently introduced our sustainer program, in which YOU, fairy god mothers of all shapes and sizes, help us out with an automatic monthly contribution (tax deductible). We’re grateful to all of YOU who have already signed up to be part of this special group of people who want to make a big impact.

5) Your Idea!

Do you have an idea about how you can help a mother out in 2011? We’d love to  know! For inspiration, check out our friend and long time supporter, Yvonne in LA, who recently decided to run the LA Marathon to raised diaper funds and awareness.  And our friends at Diaper Rash Clothingdecided to honor the cause by diapering a baby for each onesie they sell.

“Everybody can be great… because anybody can serve. You don’t have to have a college degree to serve. You don’t have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You only need a heart full of grace. A soul generated by love.” ~ Martin Luther King, Jr.

Do YOU want to be great? Fill our inbox with love:  info at helpamotherout dot org.


Photo credit via Creative Commons 2.0: Gertjan Baarda

A Date With Diapers

On May 1, the Los Angeles chapter of Help a Mother Out threw a Date Night Cocktail Party in Encino, CA.  Hosted by myself,  Julia from Safety Graphic Fun and LA Metblogs, and Tania from Pure Natural Diva who also opened up her home to us, the evening featured wine and snacks by Fresh and Easy, a selection of Tillamook cheeses, and healthy iced teas and soft drinks from Steaz.

My first take-home message from this event is that we collected 3,284 diapers and 1,000 wipes.  The men and women of our community are incredibly generous, showing that even if they don’t have children, they understand how horrible it can be to be a baby without diapers.  I’m pleased to have given people the opportunity to have a great night out while also contributing to a good cause.

Another lesson learned – this was the easiest party I ever put together.  I’m so glad I was healthy enough to attend!  I used Event Brite to manage invitations and RSVP’s and the guest list.  I highly recommend having co-hosts and throwing your next party at someone else’s house.  Having two other well-connected women involved meant three times the promotion, and a division of hosting duties throughout the evening.  Each of us was free to work the room.

The pre-packaged foods from Fresh & Easy were simple to plate and present, and the cheese – well, all we did was slice some cheese and put it out on platters with assorted accompaniments.  Keeping to the wine theme meant a streamlined bar.  Tania is all about conservation and recycling, so we didn’t use any paper products.  To that end, she had hired someone to help clear plates and glasses and keep freshly washed ones coming.

Yvonne and Todd Condes, Sarah Auerswald, and Stacy Surabian - photo by Laura Clark

...and there's Laura Clark, right, with Florinda Pendley-Vasquez

The guests were able to mix and mingle and talk with each other without shouting because the groovy music, provided by DJ Brian Klotz, was kept at a level that entertained without drowning out all other sound.  For additional entertainment, we had a few hours in the Game Truck, where party-goers bowled, raced, or rocked out with Rock Band.

The turnout was fantastic, with few no-shows.  I was happy to see many of my fellow Los Angeles Moms bloggers in attendance, lots of friends, and lots of new and interesting people, too.  The fact that we kept the guest list to 50 or under (not age, number) meant that people were able to have real conversations.  The last guest didn’t leave until close to 11:30 PM.  It all goes to show you that these Valley moms and their friends can still party, yo.

But we party with a purpose.

Julia, Kim, and Tania - photo by Sarah Auerswald

Thank you!

Baby, it’s cold outside: Share some warmth

This is a cross post from our friend Rebecca Freed of Becca’s Blog. Becca and her partner were the host of last spring’s Learn to knit party, where Rachel F. and I first learned about WDDC, which was pivotal in the evolution of HAMO. If you are an East Bay local, please see if you can help.

Photo credit: www.sistersproject.org

Right now, when we’re having the lowest temperatures of the year and wet weather to boot, the clients of the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center could really use your help.

The Drop-in Center needs warm clothes for women and kids, including rain ponchos and coats, umbrellas, socks, hats and gloves.

The center, which has served Berkeley’s homeless and low-income women
and children for over 20 years, provides breakfast and lunch on weekdays, along with support groups, referrals to social services, and a children’s program. The center always needs toiletries to provide to clients, including toothpaste and deodorant.  Diapers, especially for toddlers, are also an ongoing need. An easy way to donate diapers is through the center’s Amazon wish list.

Photo credit: www.sistersproject.org

The center hosts a holiday party for clients as well. You can donate
gifts for women and kids, especially older kids, or even volunteer to
help put on the party. To arrange for a donation, contact the center
by phone (510-548-2884) or e-mail (staff@womensdropin.org).

Giving Back Spotlight: Whitney of RookieMoms.com

During our Give Cheeks a Chance! September campaign, local Bay Area blogger, Whitney of RookieMoms.com pledged to raise 1000 diapers for our partner agency, WDDC. She ended up raising 2500 diapers!  We are eternally grateful to Whitney, for being an early supporter of our campaign, and for turning rhetoric into action!

This is a cross post from RookieMoms.com.

At the beginning of September, I set out to rally my peeps for a diaper drive. I was inspired by Help A Mother Out and figured that between my children’s two schools, my family, neighbors, and friends, I would be able to generate a 1000-diaper donation for my nearby women’s drop-in center. They serve a population of women who don’t always have the money for diapers they need and whose public assistance funds are not always applicable for diapers.

Now for my bragging
Thanks my neighbors and friends, the box I placed outside my side door got filled many times over with diapers. When I first counted and realized I was at 600, I began to worry that 1000 was a lofty goal. I sent a status update email to motivate my network. I cheered myself on publicly via Facebook. As my self-assigned deadline approached, the diapers appeared at a faster pace. I was excited.

I attended a little gathering of bloggers at an E.L.F. make-up party and asked those ladies to donate. Some gave diapers and some gave me cash. (Turns out that women who have never themselves shopped for diapers are overwhelmed by the thought of choosing a size and brand.) The cash was worth even more than the face value as my husband took it to CVS and used some heavy-weight coupons and his clever math strategery to maximize the number of diapers he brought home.

Photo from RookieMoms.com

I was proud. I had about 1500 diapers spread all over the floor in my home office. I took them to the Women’s Drop-In Center and spent the rest of the day feeling like a powerful superhero.

And then. More.

My friend Kimberley, a recipient of my email call to action, passed the word about my drive to her associates at Safeway, our regional grocery chain. The marketing person in charge of their house brand, Mom to Mom, decided she would match my drive with a generous donation of 1000 diapers from Safeway. I picked them up at my local store and headed back to the Women’s Drop-In center. I hope that the Mom to Mom team spent the rest of their day feeling like superheroes.

Photo from RookieMoms.com

Frequently Asked Question: What about cloth?
When I initially posted about this and also asked my neighbors for donations, many asked why these folks do not use cloth diapers. Yes, for those of us who have a predictable place to hang our diaper bags each night, cloth diapers may be a money-saving choice. Imagine you are in transition, however. Different friends and shelters are serving as your bed each night. Or perhaps your apartment does not have a laundry facility on site, and laundromats do not allow diaper washing for sanitary reasons. For those folks and for the truly homeless, carting around soiled diapers until laundry becomes available is simply not practical.

Did anyone else take my challenge and become a diaper superhero? What are you waiting for?

Cheeks Be With You!

Thank you to all of our Give Cheeks a Chance! supporters. Because of YOU, we collected over 35,000 diapers/pull ups for homeless and low income Bay Area babies. Prior to Give Cheeks a Chance! our diaper count was 25,680. It is now 61,222!

Big thank you to Sarah Gibbs, our San Jose Chapter Manager, for all that she did behind the scenes to make this effort a success in the South Bay.  Sarah especially kept busy connecting with goodie bag sponsors as well as shuttling diapers all around the South Bay. She is amazing. You should all buy her a drink.

Special shout outs to the following contributors, supporters, and mini drive hosts who made a difference in this effort:

Steve Walker & Holt Hinshaw

Karen Poznansky & Baby Buzz

Sue Older, Leah Ackerman-Hurst & SadieDeys Cafe staff

Shelby Shankland & Natural Resources

Patty Fisher at the San Jose Mercury News

Dana Lardner & Whimsical Walney

M. Felicity Chapman & Cubes and Crayons

Employees at Cisco Systems

Whitney Moss & RookieMoms.com

CJ BrasielJanet Fouts, Kathy & Dan Gibbs, Janice Hui, Khin Thomson, Diane Canepa, & Becca Freed

Here is some of what we collectively accomplished since late August:

  • All 22 babies staying at San Jose Family Shelter are diapered by HAMO.
  • SHCS case workers bring HAMO diapers to the neediest families (our diapers go directly to the case workers diaper closet!).
  • HPP and WDDC are able to supply emergency diapers to their homeless and low income clients. This especially helps at the end of the month when money is tight, as well as for families who have multiple children in diapers and/or who are currently living in homeless shelters.
  • Due to a large donation of “big kid” diapers, a WDDC client will have about two weeks supply of diapers for her child with special needs.
  • Due to the successful kick off event in the South Bay, we were able to make a one time diaper donation to Next Door Solutions.
  • APA Family Support Services distributed diapers to their families for the FIRST TIME EVER this past month.
  • Support Network for Battered Women will not have to send their clients across town by bus to get emergency diapers.
  • All 23 babies currently staying at Asian Women’s Home are all diapered by HAMO. Additionally, non-residential clients may also benefit from our diapers.

Thank you so much for taking direct action and making a difference. We could not have accomplished anything without the grassroots support in San Francisco, Santa Clara, Alameda, and Contra Costa counties.

If we build, will they come?

We could really use your help in getting the word out about Shelter Network of San Mateo county (click for wishlist), Children’s Network of Solano county (click for wishlist), and St. John’s Shelter in Sacramento county (click here for wishlist). If you know any local moms and families who would like to make a difference in these communities, please tell them about us and how easy it is to contribute via our Virtual Diaper Drive.

Contact us anytime of the year: info (at) helpamotherout (dotorg) to host a diaper drive for any of our partners. Here is our diaper drive toolkit to help you get started.

Remember: Be sure to add our gift card offer to your holiday wishlist this year!  Check back soon for details.

We’re Gettin’ Cheeky

Photo credit: Whimsical Walney

Our kick off events last week went off with a big bang. Baby Buzz and SadieDey’s Cafe were both hoppin’ with folks who came out to support the cause.  We collected over 5,000 diapers, South Bay and East Bay combined. Additionally, mini-diaper drives are currently underway with various moms groups, local businesses, and individuals. BIG THANK YOU to all came out to kick off Give Cheeks a Chance! Together we are making this month count in the lives of homeless and low income families.

There is still time to contribute! Drop off or donate online by September 30, 2009.

Partners in attendance:

Asian Women’s Home (AACI)Brighter BeginningsWDDCHomeless Prenatal ProgramSacred Heart Community ServiceSan Jose Family ShelterSt. Anthony’s Foundation

Gift bag and raffle sponsors:

Baby Buzz

SadieDeys Cafe

Orchard Supply Hardware


Festoon Salon, Karen Jones

Barefoot and Pregnant

Bath By Bettijo

Mothering Rocks

Little Lamb Design

Diaper Shops

Baby Legs

Sketchers Kids

Puma Kids

Cubes & Crayons, Outside the Cube


Fog City Charms

Send Out Cards

Motherhood to Otherhood

Align The Self

San Jose Family Shelter

Valley Credit Union

Emmy L Noble at Joyful Waters

Menacing Pickle

Off Ramp Publishing


Janet Fouts

Knitting as Public Service

Photo via Becca

Today’s guest post is from Becca Freed, who was there for the birth of Help a Mother Out, even if she (and we) didn’t know it at the time. As she describes below, this past spring Becca organized a learn-to-knit benefit party for the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center, which both Lisa and I attended. With apologies to Becca — who was a thoughtful, extremely patient instructor — for us the most salient lesson of the day was about the crucial work done by the WDDC, and about their urgent needs. That day, everything clicked, and a few days later, Lisa and I started sketching out a plan for a Mother’s Day diapers-and-wipes donation drive, newly dubbed Help a Mother Out. We may not have quite gotten the hang of knitting yet, but only because we’ve been too busy trying to make good on the connections and inspiration we got that day.


Some knitters seem to think there is no problem that can’t be solved by knitting something. Whether it’s for servicepeople deployed to combat zones or a neighbor who’s lost everything in a house fire, a certain type of knitter will always leap into the breach and organize a drive to knit socks or a cozy blanket or a prayer shawl.

I’ve been knitting and crocheting since childhood, and don’t get me wrong–I’ve done my fair share of charity needlecraft, starting with granny-square lap robes for my local nursing home when I was in junior high. I just don’t think that knitting is the right response for every problem. For one thing, it’s slow. Do you know how long it takes to knit even a preemie cap? If handknits were really the solution to a problem, there would be a serious imbalance between supply and demand. That’s a bit facetious, but I wonder if all that knitting time wouldn’t be better spent lobbying or protesting for change, and whether knitted donations aren’t more about gratifying the the donor than fulfilling a need.

I had these doubts in mind when I approached the Women’s Daytime Drop-in Center and asked if they needed a knitting teacher. I suspected my own motives and wondered whether I was offering something frivolous. But the volunteer coordinator assured me that to teach knitting to homeless and low-income women was to give them something of value –that the center’s clients needed more than just food, clothing, and shelter. I was reminded by this that homeless women and children are whole people; by offering a knitting class I would be honoring their creative impulses.

I’ve been teaching knitting and crochet at the center for about a year and a half now, and I see that the women and older kids do benefit from it. I’ve seen a piece of knitting in someone’s hands that takes their mind off anxieties and drug urges. Knitting can fill time waiting in social service offices, or waiting for the overnight shelter to open in the evening. A handmade hat or bag could be something to sell. But more frequently the clients benefit from knitting or crocheting the same ways that I do: acquiring a new skill is stimulating and satisfying; needlecrafting with a group is a nice way to socialize; and there’s just plain sensual pleasure in having beautifully colored and textured yarn running through your fingers.

Teaching at the Drop-in Center is fairly different from conducting a class at, say, a yarn store. Unstructured is the name of the game. I never know who will be there or what their skill set will be, so having a specific lesson to get through or project to finish is out of the question. Most of the time I teach casting on and the basic knit stitch (the very first steps to learning how to knit) over and over–and that’s OK. The clients at the center don’t know where they will be from week to week, and sometimes their stuff gets stolen because they’re living in a shelter with no secure storage. It’s fine with me if they take their supplies with them, or I can hold onto them from week to week. If I have to give someone a fresh set of needles and yarn every time they come, that’s not a problem. I rely on donated materials (but fellow knitters keep me supplied with yarn), and I’ve found some cheap sources of needles and crochet hooks.

I have to be ready for anything, including women who challenge my skills; I’m not a great crocheter, so I’ve had to brush up in order to help them. Often women have learned from their mothers or grandmothers and just need a refresher, and then it’s very possible that they’ll surpass my know-how.

I also get challenged personally on occasion, maybe by a client who’s in a volatile mood and ready to argue. That’s one of the ways that this volunteer gig has forced me to stretch and step out of my own comfort zone. I’ve learned to stay calm (at least on the outside) and communicate assertively. Even if my first impulse is to get out of the conflict by leaving the situation, I can ride it out and retain a respectful relationship with the client (and still mostly respect myself).

As much as I doubted my motives when I began, I also doubted my abilities. I doubted that I would know how to talk to women with lives so different from mine, and I was afraid of inadvertently saying something insensitive. With the volunteer coordinator’s help, I came to understand that it doesn’t take any special skill to meet someone where they are. You just listen to them, and respond the way you’d like to be talked to yourself.

I’ve also never thought that I had what it takes to be a teacher–I lack patience, and I can have a sharp tongue. But I’ve learned that I do know how to impart this particular skill, step by step, to another person. I can say “No, that’s not it–do it this way” nicely and without frustration, and I can cheer a client on when she gets the tricky part, and makes it to the end of the row. The opportunity for this kind of personal growth has really been a gift from the women to me. And more than anything else, being able to share my enthusiasm for knitting is very rewarding–I get a charge out of watching the clients ooh and ah over yarn or admire what they’ve made.

Of course the center is constantly scrambling for funds–it takes a lot of money to provide services to 150 women and children a month, including lunch every weekday. Last spring I hosted a “learn-to-knit” party with a good friend, to raise funds for the center and raise its profile among my friends and acquaintances. As a moneymaker it was modestly successful, but snagging the support of Rachel and Lisa of Help a Mother Out was a huge win.

I hope my tale shows that sharing your passion with the world is not frivolous, and can reap benefits you never expected.


You can help the Women’s Daytime Drop-In Center by purchasing supplies off their wishlist here. Enormous thanks to Becca for introducing us to both the WDDC and the world of knitting.