Villages woman turns her lanai into 'pack and ship' to help young cancer patients

Knitting club gets results across the nation

THE VILLAGES, Fla. – A Villages-based knitting club is getting results and having an international impact.

Hundreds of neighbors in the Central Florida retirement community spend their free time creating soft, colorful, whimsical hats for young cancer patients. 

The hats provide cover for hair loss and keep the children warm in cold hospitals. 

Every two weeks, the La Hacienda Recreation Center erupts with the sound of laughter as hands work back and forth pulling, wrapping and weaving. It's social hour with a purpose.

Jen Smith has been organizing the Angel Snugs get-together since 2013.  

"These are wonderful, wonderful volunteers,"  Smith says looking around the crowded room. "They show up and they're dedicated to the cause." 

A table against the wall is piled high with hats and scarfs the group made at their homes. In fact, that's where most of the work is done.

"I'm guessing there's probably close to 200 here today," Smith said.

She said it's not unusual to collect hundreds of hats.

"Some of the ladies do very beautiful, fancy work," Rosemarie Young says as her fingers work the yarn. "Mine is plain. We all do what we have the skills for."

Diane Parette learned to knit as a child. For her, the pattern is second nature.

"This is our small contribution," she says. "Jen gets the hard part."  

The hard part she's talking about is making sure all this work ends up on the heads of children who need them.

"I oversee the whole operation," Smith said. "Usually I'll pack everything up and take it to my house and sort it by size and color, boys and girls. And then start packing."

It's a running joke among the group. Jen's "pack and ship" has taken over her home.

Smith and her husband remember sitting in their lanai and enjoying the evening air. Now it's filled with boxes nearly 6 feet high. The labels on each one are like a traveler's journal. The boxes full of hats are destined for hospitals from Alaska to Florida and nearly every state in between.  

"We packed around 800 today and I looked, we have about 1,300 more to go for January." Smith laughs, It appears just saying those numbers amazes even her.

In just over five years, The Villages community has produced over 58,000 hats. Every one shipped from Smith's home. 

Smith said she sends hats to a hospital in Canada and hopes to expand with more international shipments. 

If you would like to join the group, help with donations of yarn or help offset shipping costs, more information can be found on its website

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