Blanket Fairy Mission lets Connecticut foster kids know ‘someone cares’
When Sue Yamaguchi first married her husband, they had talked about becoming foster parents. But with four children between them, both working full time and maintaining a small home, it just wasn’t feasible.
Upon asking herself what else could she do to give back to abused and abandoned children in the foster care system, Yamaguchi came up with the Blanket Fairy Mission of Greater New Haven.
“I had to think of a way to help children in the system. Unfortunately, I can’t give them a home, but I can at least give them the security of a blanket,” Yamaguchi said.
Yamaguchi made 75 blankets that first year. Nine years later, her enterprise has flourished. In December, she distributed more than 725 handmade blankets — from two-sided, patterned, no-sew fleece blankets to painstakingly intricate patchwork quilts.
Orange Congregational Church adopted the program as an outreach mission last year, and Yamaguchi earlier this month donated 30 blankets to the West Haven Police Department.
Without interruption, it takes three hours to make one of the simpler patterns. Given the project’s growth, Yamaguchi isn’t able to make all the blankets herself. So she has enlisted help from her best friend in Massachusetts, her sewing guild and several youth organizations such as Girl Scouts, Boy Scouts, Orange Congregational Church’s confirmation class and students at Career High School in New Haven.
“The nice part about involving teenagers is that … some of those kids came from an environment of not having a lot, so they do understand,” she said.
Yamaguchi said each child receives a handmade blanket and a pillow case with his or her name embroidered on it. While privacy laws prevent Yamaguchi from meeting the children, she receives their first name, gender, age and a specific “clue” such as their favorite color or animal from a social worker to help personalize the gifts.
Along with her personal connection to foster care — her husband, Robert Terni, and his brothers were in the system — she specifically chose to focus on children because they don’t have a voice, she said.
“They have nobody to go to bat for them,” Yamaguchi said. “By doing this, I’m hoping they’ll recognize that there is somebody out there.”
The blankets are handmade instead of store-bought to show the children that someone cares, she said. To emphasize her point, Yamaguchi recounted an anecdote of a high school student who wanted to know why they were making blankets. The boy didn’t seem satisfied with the answer that it was for service hours and wanted to know whether he was really helping others, she recalled.
Yamaguchi then asked him if he slept in a bed at night, and he said he slept on a couch. She then asked him what he took with him when he laid on the couch, and he said just a pillow and blanket. When pressed if he could sleep without a blanket, he admitted he probably couldn’t, she said.
“This is why I focus on blankets because, regardless of who you are, if you’re an adult or a child, if you go to bed at night after you’ve had a horrendous day, the first thing you do, whether it’s a sheet during the summer or a blanket during the winter, you put that sheet or blanket over you,” Yamaguchi said. “It’s kind of like a calming thing that will actually help you sleep. Imagine a little kid that’s cold, hungry and doesn’t have any kind of security or comfort. This is what does it.”
Yamaguchi said she and her husband fund most of the blankets out-of-pocket but receive both monetary and fabric donations to help with the project. Depending on the amount of donations, it usually costs about $10 per child. While she doesn’t know where this endeavor will take her, she said the more people that are involved, the more children she can help.