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HandsOn the Community: “Knit for Need” Fashions Warmth for the Underprivileged

December 29, 2011

Rachel Braley (right) started Knit for Need in 2009 and has watched it blossom ever since.

When most people think of Panera, they think of freshly baked bread, hot soup, or tasty salads. For one group of local volunteers, however, the restaurant franchise inspires thoughts of a very different subject: knitting.

Each week, Rachel Braley and a group of dedicated volunteer knitters meet at a local Panera to participate in a project they’ve dubbed “Knit for Need.” Their goal is simple—to use their love of knitting to produce warm hats, scarves, shawls, cat toys, and a variety of other products to donate to underprivileged people and animals. In the three years the program has been in existence, Rachel estimates the group has donated over three hundred items to non-profits across the Inland Empire. “We donate a lot of products to the Loma Linda Children’s Hospital and VA, as well as the West End Animal Shelter,” says Braley, “and we’re in the process of adding Habitat for Humanity and YAPS [Yucaipa Animal Placement Society] to that list.”

The group gathers each Wednesday night to talk knitting while working on their projects.

With a dozen regular attendees (and growing) producing roughly a hundred items per year, the program has proven a major hit. Yet as Braley is quick to point out, the origins of the program are incredibly humble. “A few years ago I went to a Young Nonprofits meeting and they had us do an opening activity where I mentioned my favorite hobby is knitting. After the meeting [former HandsOn Inland Empire Operations Manager] Shalani Lall came up to me and said ‘I have a knitting program that needs a leader. Are you interested?’” Initially hesitant, the idea of using her hobby to help the community eventually won Rachel over, and Knit for Need was born.

This same idea – using your hobby to serve the community – has also inspired many of the program’s volunteers. “What I like most about this program is that it allows me to be creative while it lets me give back,” says Mike, who has been attending for about a month. “It combines two of my passions.” Roslyn, meanwhile, points out that the program is really beneficial to all parties involved: “By knitting, I feel like I’m giving back, that it’s helping someone in the community. Yet it’s also a social opportunity for me to meet new people, and it’s a chance for all of us to improve our skills as knitters. A lot of people join us who have never knitted or crocheted before in their lives, and that’s great!”

Volunteers new to knitting can learn valuable techniques for improving their skills.

The group is always looking for new members, and individuals of all levels of knitting experience are welcome. When asked what she would say to individuals who might be interested in knitting with the group, Rachel kept her message simple: “Join us! We’re here every Wednesday night from 6:00-9:00. Michael’s [Arts and Crafts] is right down the street. Pick up any pair of needles, any kind of yarn, and show up! And if you don’t have any, you can borrow mine.”

For more information on the Knit for Need program, including its exact meeting dates and location, please see the calendar of events on the HandsOn Inland Empire website:

For information on how to start a volunteer program of your own, please contact Bryan Nakawaki [].

This article is part of an ongoing series of posts highlighting volunteer opportunities in the Inland Empire. Stay tuned for many exciting future installments!

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 27, 2013 11:31 PM

    Are u only looking for knitters or is crocheting ok to??

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