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Crafting A Warm Welcome: A Volunteer’s Homemade Blankets Help Refugees Through the Cold

  January 26, 2024

During the harsh chill of their first New England winter, several of IINE’s refugee clients are finding warmth in beautiful, hand-crafted blankets from longtime community volunteer Lydia Walshin.  

Each time Lydia donates one of the colorful “Welcome Blankets” she has crocheted, she attaches a card with a message of welcome that explains their story: 

Lydia Walshin card

“Welcome to the United States. We are so happy you’re here. 

My name is Lydia and I live in Boston with my husband, who immigrated here from Canada. My grandparents came to the U.S. from Poland in the 1920’s and lived in New York, where I was born. My grandmother taught me to make blankets like this one, so it feels good to share my grandmother’s love with you all. This pattern is called a “granny square”—granny is short for grandmother! 

I hope your life in the Boston area will fill you with peace and joy, that your family will find comfort and friendship, and that you will feel free. People here are friendly and will try their best to help you. My family and I wish you all the best.

Lydia started making Welcome Blankets back in 2017 as part of a national craftivism project. She sent her blankets first to museum exhibits, and then to the southern border where they were distributed to newly arriving immigrants. It was one way she could use her skills to take positive action and ease the anxiety she felt over anti-immigrant rhetoric and policies surrounding the recent presidential election.  

Another was volunteering as an ESOL tutor. “I had never done this work before, but I was a writer for my whole life,” Lydia explains. She is a food writer with several ebooks to her credit and a blog called Lydia Likes It. “I had a pretty good command of the English language, had traveled a lot and had to make my way as somebody who only speaks English in many countries around the world, so I thought, let me give it a try, and I loved it.” 

A resident of Boston’s Chinatown neighborhood, she started volunteering at several local agencies serving immigrants and particularly liked working with IINE.  

“IINE was great! The teacher was very creative and really got me hooked on it! The students obviously respected him. They worked hard, and they laughed a lot. They were determined to succeed here whatever it took, and I was so impressed with that.” 

Lydia has steadily continued to volunteer in ESOL classes, drawing on her passions for food, international soccer, and writing to connect with adult learners from all over the world. 

 She also regularly checks IINE’s website to see what kind of donations are needed. When she saw some winter needs listed, her Welcome Blankets seemed like a perfect fit. 

I try to send them off with lots of love in my heart and hope that that spirit takes them where they need to go

Lydia connected with IINE’s Volunteer Coordinator Kate Waidler, who was happy to receive Lydia’s Welcome Blankets. Lydia started making and donating more and more of them. She doesn’t know who specifically will receive them but says, “I try to send them off with lots of love in my heart and hope that that spirit takes them where they need to go.” 

Annis Roberts is one of the IINE Case Specialists who has had the pleasure of giving a Welcome Blanket to a recently arrived family. “Their almost three-year-old-daughter loved it!” Annis says. “She loves pink so this was the perfect one for her. When I left, she was wrapping her doll in it, so safe to say she was very happy to receive it!” 

Welcome blanket donation

Lydia calls the pink designs, her “Barbie” blankets. She is also fond of making rainbow-colored designs. “I make a lot that are rainbows because I think rainbows are optimistic, and we’re trying to say to people, ‘We are so glad you’re here. We want you to have a wonderful life, and we’re here to help you.’ I think rainbows say that.” 

She hopes other volunteers will join her in making Welcome Blankets and emphasizes that they are an easy project for any fiber arts crafter. They can be sewn, knitted, or crocheted, and the Welcome Blanket Website offers patterns, photos, and sources for materials. For her, the project is a way to keep up the momentum.

“As somebody who still teaches students and goes to classes, this is something I can do at home that keeps the movement going but is a bit quieter and calmer. It brings me joy to picture people opening a box and seeing the blanket and saying, ‘wow!’ I think that’s great.” 

If you would like to become involved in making Welcome Blankets, you can reach out to Lydia directly at lydiawalshin42@gmail.com

Interested in IINE’s volunteer opportunities? Click to find a list of ways you can get involved.


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