Central Ohio women have picked up skeins of yarn where a beloved mother left off, knitting and crocheting 46,000 items for charity over two decades.
Gahanna resident Glenda Neely started the knitting/crocheting ministry of St. Matthew the Apostle Church to continue the community service started by her late mother Grace Miller.
This year alone, 39 central Ohio organizations have benefited from about 8,000 gloves, hats, scarves, baby blankets and lap robes that have been donated with a note, "May God bless you and keep you warm and safe."
Neely said the ministry started as a gift of knitting lessons to her mother in 1990, when she was diagnosed with viral cardiomyopathy that was caused by a virus from the flu. The family learned that Miller's condition had no cure and her prognosis was five years.
Neely said Miller started making scarves and hats, donating them to the Worthington United Methodist Church, and she continued that generosity until her death in 1995.
"Driving home from work one day, I saw a homeless person at Morse Road and I-71 wearing one of my mother's knitted hats," she said. "It was a brown hat. I can still picture the man. After seeing him, I knew her work should continue."
Currently, about 125 volunteers crochet and knit items to be donated to those in need.
Women gather at Neely's home from 7 to 9 p.m. most Mondays to crochet and knit and at Panera Bread (Morse and Hamilton roads) on the third Monday of the month.
The last hat stitched by Miller still sits in a copper tub in a room where many of the ladies gather to work on their latest creations.
"We have retired nurses, teachers, a chemist and business professionals -- people from all walks of life," Neely said. "Whoever comes comes. We have fun. A lot of women knit and crochet at home.
"The whole thing is about the group and giving to those in need," she said. "It's such a feeling of satisfaction. There are people out there that need help and people who want to help."
Neely said Ann Hobart is an exceptional volunteer, making hundreds of items every year.
Joey Ashbrook, 71, has been crocheting since she was 18.
"We did 8,000 units this year and 7,000 last year," she said. "We never catch up with the need. One year we'd think we would have leftovers. One thing about this group is that it's spiritual, but we don't talk religion."
Sue Lawhead said she had read a story about Neely at church and has been a part of the group for six years.
"I wanted to do things for the homeless," she said. "It's my passion. I love it. I'm making a scarf and will make a hat to match. At 65, I learned how to knit."
Two weeks ago, she received a box containing yarn addressed to "Elf Susan," from Santa. An attached note said the yarn was for the knitting ministry.
Neely said mysterious donations are typical.
"Thousands of skeins of yarn are used," she said. "I'm completely amazed. It has all been word of mouth and notes in the church bulletin. People want to help."
Every November brings a large gathering at Gahanna's Mifflin Presbyterian Church, where most of the year's work is placed on tables for distribution.
"Everyone comes together," Neely said. "It just runs as smooth as clockwork. We already have 500 items for 2013."
In addition to helping people they will never meet, the women of the ministry have been a close-knit group.
Susan Fedorchak said she recently had back surgery, and the ladies provided her food for three weeks.
Member Joanne Kitchen quickly added, "I had wrist surgery, and food came to my door."
In addition to making scarves, Teresa Prociuk volunteers to serve food through the Interfaith Hospitality Network YWCA on Fifth Avenue.
"St. Matthew's provides dinner every other month," she said. "Today (Dec. 3) we dropped off 250 sets of hats and scarves. It's beautiful seeing the kids run around with the scarves around their necks. The kids look at themselves in the mirror and say, 'Wow,' because it's new. There is a young population at the shelter."
Neely said she always recalls one thing her mother often said.
"We're all one paycheck away from being homeless," she said. "I've never forgotten that."
Anyone wanting to donate yarn or monetary contributions to the knitting ministry should contact St. Matthew the Apostle Church, 807 Havens Corners Road, Gahanna. Neely can be reached through the church at 614-471-0212.