Whether it's a blanket for a baby, a skateboard ramp for neighborhood children or afghans for the terminally ill, gifts crafted by hand come graciously from the hearts of friends and strangers.
More than 100 readers responded to our request to hear from those who donate time and skill for the good of others. The rewards, crafters say, are many.
It can be an act of healing, according to Mary Moffitt of Downey, who wrote:
"Recently I was diagnosed with breast cancer, followed by a double mastectomy and chemotherapy that caused me to lose all my hair. At my lowest point, I learned of Project Linus. This group makes blankets . . . and distributes them to children receiving treatment for catastrophic diseases.
"As a cancer survivor, I knew that feeling cared for and loved was the foundation to recovery. I began to learn to quilt, and making little specialty blankets is perfect practice for me. My quilting for Project Linus wraps us both in protective care and helps me to stay healthy."
Juli B. Kinrich of Valley Village has proof of crafting's healing powers. Women of her synagogue, Adat Ari El, make afghans for homeless and battered women in the east San Fernando Valley. One of the members, Kinrich writes, "says since she started doing this project, she doesn't need to take her Valium anymore!"
Designer-woodworker David Alexis Wade of Rialto built a skateboarding ramp for young people in his neighborhood. "For me, building something like a skateboard ramp is not an end in itself, but a process--a process from design, to construction, to wheeling it out in the street after work for the neighborhood kids to enjoy, to teaching the kids how to skate and share.
"For example, the other day I saw one of the girls in the neighborhood who regularly skates on the ramp trying to chase off three boys who had walked over from the next neighborhood. I asked her why she did that, and I explained to her that I had built the ramp for everyone to enjoy and share."
Kenneth Tuxford of Redondo Beach is a retired ceramics teacher who donates pots to South Coast Botanic Garden. "It has been a very rewarding venture for me," he writes. "I still get to play in mud, the gift shop gets a little income and I get the satisfaction of feeling that I'm still making a bit of a contribution to society."
The recipients of crafters' goodwill are of all types, even the four-legged variety. Della Panos of Sherman Oaks makes blankets and cushions for pets at an animal rescue shelter.
Some crafters work alone, while others use crafts to make new friends. Girl Scout Cadettes from Troop 279 in Monterey Park make picture frames, bird feeders, bumblebee water bottles and other items with the children at Maryvale, a Los Angeles orphanage.
Of all the groups that wrote in, the one with the most interesting name had to be that of the 10 women at the Newport Beach Plaza Retirement Community who make afghans for babies. They call themselves the Happy Hookers.
Beverly Richardson of Placentia dressed a teddy bear and named it Hope when she was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in 1998. She took it to her treatments for comfort and now makes the bears for children.
"They come with name necklace and bandage on the arm where they have had their blood drawn," she writes. "My pleasure distributing these 'Huggy Bears' surmounts my annoyance with my own health problems."
For Elvira V. Andrade of Barstow, the joy of giving explains her participation in Happy Hats for Kids, a nonprofit agency that donates hats and knitted toys to children in hospitals.
Andrade writes that the work keeps her from being "depressed, nervous, lonely." It also makes her feel "needed in my late age, needed by these children."
Crafters are resourceful, as evidenced by Florence Cohn of Laguna Woods, who crochets handbags using strips cut from plastic shopping bags and donates them to a nonprofit group called Circulo de Amigas in Nicaragua.
Some crafters are modest. It took Christine Huard-Spencer of Orange to tell us about her friends, Carol and Barbara, who buy Cabbage Patch dolls at thrift shops, spruce them up, make outfits for them and give them to children at shelters.
Besides being therapeutic, rewarding, fun, educational and in other ways meaningful, creating gifts also is hard work. Irene Reiss of Camarillo is 83 and makes afghans for babies and young people in wheelchairs.
"Many times I get so tired," she writes, "I can't keep the needle in my hands. But the thought of the joy and comfort my afghans bring to the little people [prompt me to] continue my work."