Ela Twp. group tries to 'keep the flame' of knitting, crocheting, sewing, quilting for charities

In front of the TV. In waiting rooms. On planes.

A group of women in Lake County has spent countless hours knitting, crocheting and, more recently, sewing and quilting to make thousands of handmade items - hat, scarves, blankets, quilts, mittens, wash cloths, headbands, toe warmers and even stuffed toys - to donate to nonprofits and community organizations.

The Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group has been meeting weekly for 16 years, with the added benefit of friendships forming along the way, its members said.

"It's just a great group of very giving women. Extremely giving women," said member Barb Swichtenberg of Lake Zurich.

"You're doing something for somebody else," said member Lia Douglas of Deer Park. "You're bringing a little bit of joy and comfort to somebody else."

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the group mostly has met remotely on Zoom, with the exception of a few meetings - either outdoor or indoor with masks - last summer. Despite the inability to see each other face to face, the women last year crafted more than 1,650 items for students, clients of domestic violence shelters, oncology patients and others.

Recipients say the group provides a great service to the community.

"It's a huge, huge contribution to us being able to provide our clients what they need," said Demaris Lorta, chief development officer for A Safe Place, a Lake County nonprofit that provides services to domestic violence and human trafficking victims. The agency last year received 90 hats from the group.

The craftsmanship is evident in each of the donated pieces, said Jessica Ceisel, community engagement coordinator for United Way of Lake County, which got 69 sets of hats and scarves that went to clients of the nonprofit Family Focus Highland Park.

"I got to meet a couple of the ladies," Ceisel said. "They are so kind and passionate, and it was very sweet to see how much they truly care."

The group was started in 2006 by Susan Fackler, who retired last year as director of Ela Township Community Family Services. The only remaining original member just moved to Georgia.

The group first met in the basement of the Foglia YMCA, followed by about a decade at the Ela Township Community Center. Their current home is the Ela Township building. All are in Lake Zurich.

Douglas said she learned to knit from her grandmother and joined the group in 2018, after she retired.

"It has a calming effect," she said of knitting. "It's something that you see that you are doing and you have sense of accomplishment. And you have a way to express your artistic needs, because you put together colors and shapes."

Swichtenberg, too, relishes the group as a way of giving back during her retirement years. Sewing suits her best because she has tendinitis, she said.

Among her favorite endeavors is donating to The Lake County Haven, which helps homeless women achieve independent living, and to Lake County's Women's Residential Services program, each of which received blankets last year.

"That's a very special thing," she said.

A longtime recipient is Joanie's Closet, a District 95 Educational Foundation committee that provides school supplies and winter gear to under-resourced students and families in the Lake Zurich-based school district. Last year's donation from the group was 50 youth hats and 150 adult hats.

"It's truly a phenomenal experience for the people in our district, because it's not just store-bought hats," said Ann Marie McConnell, chairwoman of the committee. "They give us beautiful things. I wish I could knit, seeing what they do."

Advocate Good Shepherd Hospital received 150 blankets and 77 toe warmers, plus 17 hats and 13 scarves for the hospital's radiation oncology group. The items are sought after, said Karen Sticha, a radiation oncology nurse specialist.

"The fact that there are people who care enough to offer these gifts - something so kind, personal and beautiful - means so much to our patients as they undergo treatment," she said. "There is a lot of love and intent behind each and every piece we receive."

Before the pandemic, up to 20 women attended the group's meetings, but that has dwindled to six or seven, Douglas said.

Some members are not comfortable with technology or don't like virtual interactions, and others have moved out of state. The group keeps in touch via weekly emails so everyone can work on needed items at home and drop them off at the township.

Still, "we would love to get new members," Douglas said. "We're always looking for new members."

Swichtenberg agreed.

"The group is much smaller during COVID, but the need is so much greater," she said. "We're trying so hard to keep the flame. I don't want this group to die out."

Anyone interested can email or call Sara Marx at (847) 540-8380.

  The hands of Barb Swichtenberg of Lake Zurich fly through the yarn on her way to completing another project like a hat or perhaps a baby blanket. She and other members of Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group donate items to nonprofit and community organizations. Mark Welsh/
  Pam Cutts and Barb Swichtenberg, both of Lake Zurich, Lia Douglas of Deer Park and Julie Thomas of Lake Zurich look over the many projects they have made throughout their weeks at home. They are members of the Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group. Mark Welsh/
Some of the items handmade by the Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group. Courtesy of Lia Douglas
The Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group has created hundreds of hats, scarves and other items to give to local community groups. Courtesy of Lia Douglas
Some of the items handmade by the Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group. Courtesy of Lia Douglas
Some of the items handmade by the Ela Township Charity Knit Crochet Quilt Group. Courtesy of Lia Douglas
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