Handmade with Love

How My Very Own Blanket is providing warmth and love to children in need

06/04/24
by Victoria Ritter

When Jessica Rudolph began knitting blankets for her kids, she had no idea that her passion would turn into a global philanthropic venture. Today, My Very Own Blanket, founded by Rudolph, offers comfort and security to kids in the foster care system by providing them with handmade blankets and quilts.

The idea for My Very Own Blanket came to Rudolph in December 1999. At the time, her three kids – ages 1, 2 and 3 years old – shared a bedroom and a bedtime. Rudolph would sit with them as they fell asleep and knit a blanket. One night, while in the middle of knitting a row, she considered who the next blanket would go to, as each of her children already had one. An idea came to her: she could give the blanket to a kid in foster care.

Then another thought came: what if there were other people who would like to donate a handmade blanket. The following month, she sent out a flyer to her friends, asking for their help.

“I knew we were all busy, but I thought that if we all did a little bit, then we could accomplish a lot,” Rudolph recalled.

That first year, Rudolph expected to receive 12 blankets. She and her friends ended up donating 84 blankets to three children’s services organizations in the area. The following year, she received 526 blankets which in turn were donated across 16 counties.

“It wasn’t until then that I truly saw the need for this endeavor,” Rudolph said. This year, Rudolph’s goal is to give away 40,000 blankets.

My Very Own Blanket has been present across North America for many years, serving the U.S., Virgin Islands and Cananda. In May – which happens to be National Foster Care Month – the Westerville, OH-based nonprofit went global. Now it has connections in England, Ireland and Australia.

“The beautiful thing with being involved with people who sew, knit or crochet is they love to make blankets and quilts,” Rudolph said. “They just need an outlet.”

 

Anyone can make a blanket

As My Very Own Blanket took on a life of its own, Rudolph has kept a handful of goals in mind. In an effort to be efficient and productive, she continues to look for ways to make the most of the resources provided.

A major component of the organization is to have everyone feel involved, no matter their skill. My Very Own Blanket accepts blankets and quilts that are sewn, knit or crocheted, but even those who don’t have experience in making blankets can participate. The organization also receives new-sew fleece blankets that require simply cutting and tying fringe around the border.

“We love all different kinds of blankets,” Rudolph said.

For a small cost, My Very Own Blanket sells fleece blanket kits which include 1-1/2 yards of fleece, directions, a fringe cutting template and special tag. Anyone, from kids to seniors, can make a single-layer fringe blanket. The kits are available to order through the organization’s website, myveryownblanket.org.

“In 40 minutes, you can make a no-sew fleece blanket that will impact the life of someone else for years to come,” Rudolph said.

My Very Own Blanket takes in blankets of various sizes, ranging from 36 x 36 inches as the smallest to 60 x 80 inches as the largest. The most popular size is medium (about 24 x 60 inches), as it fits toddlers to teenagers.

Rudolph wants to keep blankets where they’re made. “I want to support local children’s services and agencies, local fabric stores,” she explained. “When you donate locally, you get to meet the people you’re giving the blankets to. You get to see the effect you’re having.”

The local approach not only keeps shipping costs down and is more efficient, but it also expands volunteers’ reach. Rudolph encourages volunteers to take their philanthropy one step further when delivering blankets and ask local agencies about what other needs they have to fill. If a volunteer knows of a caseworker, agency, guardian ad litem or foster family, Rudolph asks that they let My Very Own Blanket know so it can work with the agencies. To date, the organization works with more than 700 children’s services agencies.

“If there’s an area where there isn’t an agency close by, I ask volunteers, ‘Will you help us find a place?’” Rudolph added. “It takes a village; it takes all of us to bring love to these kids.”

 

A community for change

My Very Own Blanket has a small, yet dedicated team and a strong support system to make sure kids receive “exceptional” blankets. On every third Thursday, Kohl’s employees volunteer their time to sort through blankets, while the parent company donates $25 to My Very Own Blanket for each hour of the volunteers’ time. “They do all kinds of things for us,” Rudolph said. “They’ll help process blankets, do quality control on blankets, iron or cut materials.”

If volunteers receive a blanket that doesn’t meet the organization’s expectations, they will try to fix it – whether it be washing off pet hair or trimming fringe. My Very Own Blanket, however, does not accept pre-owned blankets.

“We feel kids in foster care deserve to have brand-new things because oftentimes they get hand-me-downs,” Rudolph explained. “We really want to show them that they’re deserving and worthy of something new that brings them love.”

Rudolph has seen volunteer interest grow, citing how people have held blanket-making events in their communities and families have crafted blankets during holiday get-togethers.

“There are a lot of kids who will say ‘Instead of giving me a birthday present, let’s make a blanket together.’”

In honor of its 25th anniversary, My Very Own Blanket is hosting a celebration on October 10, both in-person and virtually. The event will include a keynote speaker, a presentation on the organization’s history and an opportunity for participants to make a blanket; My Very Own Blanket will send out fleece blanket kits to virtual attendees ahead of time so they can participate. More information about the event will be available on the organization’s website and social media pages in the coming months.

“I love that everyone will be included,” Rudolph said.

 

Ripples of love

The blankets are meant to provide more than physical warmth, but comfort and love to kids who are facing a life of uncertainty. As an added gesture of kindness, each blanket comes with a silkscreened tag that notes who made the blanket, who the blanket is meant for and a brief message from the blanket maker. These tags are available in English, Spanish and French.

“We really want to give these kids something to hang onto every night and every day when we can’t be there with them,” Rudolph said. “That way, they have something they can control and have for comfort.”

Originally, the tags had just a space for the child’s name, but the designed change after Rudolph had a chance meeting. A few years ago, she was handing out blankets to teenagers when one girl came up and asked Rudolph if someone had really made a blanket for her.

“Her next question both shocked and inspired me to redesign those tags to have the volunteer’s name and note,” Rudolph recalled. “She said, ‘Who are they? Who would do something so nice for me who doesn’t even know me?’ It was so powerful.

“I have faith and hope that kids will see that name and say, ‘I’m not in this alone.’”

Rudolph views caseworkers as the frontline of children’s services agencies’ frontline and tries to support them however she can. The blankets are available to caseworkers at no cost, with no paperwork required.

“The blankets are a vital tool for caseworkers because every child sees them as a stranger,” Rudolph said. “When a caseworker has a blanket or a quilt to be able to give to them, it helps break down barriers and build trust and a relationship.”

Together with agencies and volunteers, Rudolph hopes to positively impact the lives of kids and change the trajectory of their lives.

“You are doing something profound, something that is so impactful on someone else’s life for years,” she stated. “When they’re feeling lonely or sad or scared, this blanket is there with them and for them.”

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