If, and How, We Should Respond to Tragedies with Handmade Goods

by Kathryn on September 4, 2013 · 11 comments

in Crochet for a Cause

Post image for If, and How, We Should Respond to Tragedies with Handmade Goods

I wrote an article for the Fall 2013 issue of Crochetvolution called Responding to Tragedies with Heartfelt Handmade Donations. In this article I wrote about how many of us immediately pick up our hooks and needles after a major disaster happens in the world, crafting to heal ourselves from the fear surrounding that tragedy as much as to help others in need at that time. I expected the article to receive a positive, or at least neutral, response because this is something that I see as fairly normal to do after a tragedy occurs. I was shocked, actually, to find that the first comments that were posted on the article completely disagreed with me. After reading through the comments and mulling it over for a little while, I’ve decided that there were some valid points made and I’ve slightly revised my original thinking although I continue to believe that it’s valuable and helpful to craft for others after any major difficult event.

My Original View on Responding to Tragedies with Crochet

You can read my full article online (free) at Crochetvolution. Basically I said that we crochet or knit in the face of disaster for the following reasons:

  • We want to contribute. We may not have money but we can offer a gift of yarn. We want to help and this is the skill that we have.
  • It offers comforts to the victims of a tragedy. Blankets, toys and prayer shawls all let the victims of emergencies know that there are others out there who care, who are thinking of them, who want to help.
  • It calms us down. Many people are personally hugely emotionally affected by the disasters in the world even when they don’t directly affect their belongings or city. Crochet and knitting reduce anxiety.
  • This act of kindness restores some positive energy to the world. It is hard to explain exactly why or how but when something negative happens it helps to balance it out with positive actions. Whatever you want to attribute this to in your own personal belief system, many of us have seen this magic in action. Simply doing something good, like crafting with the intention to heal, helps bring balance to the world.

I continue to believe that these things are basically true.

The Gist of the Comments

The general response of the comments to this article contradicted my belief in the second point above where I said “it offers comfort to the victims of a tragedy”. Commenters made some really valid points.

I especially understood what KellieT said when she wrote:

“I believe, with all honesty, (and I say this as a knitter, crocheter, spinner, dyer and weaver) that were I to be gifted with a handmade whatever from a total stranger in the midst of tragedy that it would be deposited directly into the nearest trashcan. Not because I’m a horrible person who devalues the time and skill needed or the intent behind it, but because at that moment, in the middle of disaster and tragedy I am thinking of 3 things, finding shelter, finding food, and keeping my family with me. I do not need or want a meaningless object cluttering up my peripheral thoughts. In fact, it would likely cause much more stress than it was meant to cure.”

It was also pointed out that the time and energy required to organize and distribute those handmade gifts often gets placed on overworked volunteers who have other priorities. Admittedly, this is something that I hadn’t thought about.

My Initial Response to Those Comments

I admit that at first the comments made me really sad. I know so many people who respond to the difficulties of others by crocheting or knitting something as a gift to those people. Not all of these people could be wrong, right?

After Thinking it Over; A Revised Plan for Crafting After a Tragedy

At the same time, not all of the commenters could be wrong either, right? So I really thought through what they were saying and why I wrote what I originally wrote. Here are some things I’ve realized:

  • I write primarily from a perspective of healing yourself with crochet. I believe in the power of this, in the power of how the craft saves individual lives and how crafting in general adds something positive to our society. Three of the four points I originally made about why we craft are really about healing ourselves in the wake of international tragedies and I maintain that there is a lot of value in this.
  • The value of handmade gifts after a disaster is probably most applicable specifically to times when the disaster is emotional rather than physical. In other words, it’s true that if you’re looking for shelter and don’t even have a home to live in then you probably aren’t going to immediately appreciate the gift of a blanket. (Note: I don’t think that this is always true since volunteer crafters do make wearable and functional items that are of great use in the immediate situation in some cases.) However, if basic physical needs are still being met but the tragedy has a huge emotional impact (such as may be the case in the mass deaths after a bombing or school shooting) then the emotional comfort of a handmade gift could be very valuable.
  • Another options is to give to individuals, rather than causes. I do think that what I’ve said above is true. However, in thinking more about it, the people I know who have been recipients of such gifts usually received them from others that they knew personally or groups that someone they knew was a part of. It may be that we should give to individuals facing specific personal difficulties rather than the people experiencing huge national disasters. So for example if you know someone who works in a hospital and you can donate to that person’s patients through them then you are working at a more individual level. I don’t know that I really think one way is better than the other but I do think there’s something really nice about the personal touch and this should be considered as another options with benefits for both the crafter and the recipient. Note: I’ve started a series of posts on prayer shawls over at Lion Brand that relates to this topic. The comments in the first post inspire me and make me believe that at least on the individual level there is a lot of value in receiving a handmade gift during a difficult time.
  • It is important to be thoughtful about when and where you send items. Make sure that you know who is going to have to distribute the items and if they have the resources to do that. Be as organized as possible with donations to avoid causing extra work to volunteers.

One of the Crochetvolution commenters also mentioned that there’s the option of raffling off or auctioning handmade items and then using that money as a donation to the victims of a situation that concerns you. I LOVE this idea, especially in cases where a monetary contribution is really going to make a huge difference in the lives of some or many.

Your Thoughts?

I really want to know what you guys think about this issue. Do you craft for others after a tragedy or disaster? Have you been the recipient of such crafting? What has your experience been about if and how we should do this?

Share your thoughts in the comments below. (Please let me know by using the “contact” tab at the top of the site if you can’t leave a comment. Apparently a few people are having issues and I’m trying to get a grasp on what the problem is so I can solve it!) Alternatively, feel free to bring the conversation to my Facebook page.

pinit fg en rect gray 28 If, and How, We Should Respond to Tragedies with Handmade Goods

Subscribe to all posts by daily email or through a feed reader.

Subscribe to my newsletter where I share crochet news and updates every 1-2 months.

12 comments
Emily
Emily

"Three of the four points I originally made about why we craft are really about healing ourselves in the wake of international tragedies and I maintain that there is a lot of value in this." Actually, the point of giving in a disaster is to assist the people who are struggling to rebuild their lives. The people who need healing in a disaster are them. I think one should always be very careful to ask oneself am I trying to make someone's life better or am I trying to make this something about me?

It is well worth noting that there is a difference between a loving gift for someone you know who is reeling from a tragedy and being part of a disaster relief effort., and that there is a difference between the kinds of gifts people need and want who are well-off/have a strong support system/insurance/ and those who don't. If you want to make a difference in the lives of people who don't, direct assistance with money is the best way to go.


almonteja
almonteja

I absolutely love your posts...the heartfelt nature of what you do when you write, and of how truly dynamic you are in how you feel and think about things. I am fairly neutral on this particular topic because things can go both ways, as you have pointed out above. I just wanted to point out how proud of you I am for being able to really, genuinely hear what other people have to say and to use that to grow your own thinking and feelings about things... In today's day and age, people do much more "talking" (think facebook, twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, etc. - which are all about posting more than anything else) than "listening". You truly LISTEN, not just with your head, but also with your heart. Kudos Lady...Kudos!

Ilnara
Ilnara

As a person who has lived through personal disasters (two house fires, one when I was 5 the other when I was 16), I can say this - receiving handmade blankets and clothes to replace what we lost was appreciated just as much as the food and the space to stay at a friend's house. My parents weren't poor but nor were we rich so replacing the clothing for 5 kids as well as themselves would have been a financial burden. Trying to pay for everything afterward was enough of a burden - finding someplace to live, buying furniture and appliances, replacing clothing, books, toys, pots and pans, dishes, hairbrushes, etc.

Taking the personal disaster to a national scale gives one an idea of the staggering cost it would be to replace the blankets, clothing, toys, and basic necessities, let alone finding someplace to live, food to survive each day, furnishings so people aren't sleeping, sitting, and eating on the floor or ground, and doing everything that is needed to survive and replace what is lost.

Some things are always wanted after a disaster - blankets, clothing, toys, food, health services, transportation - and most organizations that deal with disasters have available a list of what they need. What is not wanted are the extra items that we collect over the years - art, knickknacks, specialty dishes and pans, etc. Those are the items that shouldn't be donated.

Money always helps because that is what will buy the items desperately needed and not being donated or shouldn't be donated unless in unopened packages - underwear, toothbrushes, hairbrushes, medicines, etc. If someone makes crochet art, great, but use it to raise money rather than donating it.

A lot of emphasis is placed on the victims of a disaster. However, there are people who are affected who don't know the victims and their families and many of these people are crafters. So if they use their craft for self-healing and wish to use whatever they craft to help the victims then they should be commended. Just remember to think about the appropriateness of what you crafted. If it is not on the list of items needed by the organizations then maybe it should be used to raise money instead.

I know I can't afford to donate to every disaster relief fund out there but I do have a large stash of yarn I've collected over the years. So I can make things, sell or raffle them off to make money, and then donate the funds raised to whatever fund I feel needs it most. It winds up better for me and them in the long run - I feel better doing something to help, someone local benefits from my craftiness, and the money to buy the items needed for the victims is available to be spent in or near the area of the disaster, helping to revitalize their economic comeback as well.Also, no shipping costs - just add that into the donation..

CrochetBlogger
CrochetBlogger moderator

Rhonda shared:

For years I have been making Afghanis and donating them to our local Hospice in-bed facility. I found that these facilities are for patients with no one. No family and the friends they have are not able to provide round-the-clock care. Local nursing homes are always in need of blankets too, especially around the holidays for gifts for residents without family. And, let's not forget orphanages. Their are so many needs we can meet in our own backyards.

Thanks for keeping us thinking of others, Rhonda

Latest blog post: Vintage Magazine Ads

CrochetKitten
CrochetKitten

I kind of agree with the commenters, although I think one handmade gift that is usually appreciated is food. Something non-perishable or freezable (assuming the recipient has a freezer). The one thing I appreciated most when my daughter was born (an event that was the exact opposite of a tragedy!) was the people who were thoughtful enough to know that I didn't have time to think about feeding myself right at that moment. :) But I do also love the idea of raffling off handmade items to raise money for a cause. I've donated items for such auctions. :D

Craftypodes
Craftypodes

@CrochetBlogger We were going to make some toys to send after Sandy Hook, but life got in the way and it never happened.

CrochetBlogger
CrochetBlogger moderator

This comment was sent to me through email by Jodie:


That's very interesting Kathryn, I love the way the interactive nature of blogging allows people to converse and provoke further thought and enlightenment.

The idea of raffling is a good one. After the bushfires and floods in my country the initial and immediate needs were for shelter, food and MONEY! It is quick and easy and cheaper to distribute via electronic means, and the recipients can use it for their specific needs. After that, physical labour was required to help with the clean up and repairs and rebuilding.

As a gift giver, I like to think of the person(s) for whom I am crafting or if I don't know the individual(s) involved, I like to know the circumstance of the recipient(s). In this way my spiritual energy is going into each stitch for that particular recipient and it motivates me to take extra care and effort. If I have the means to find out about the recipient's specific needs, likes/dislikes etc. then I definitely take that into account when designing the project.

Sometimes I have observed people to be lackadaisical and careless when creating items in a "production line way" 'for charity' without knowing where or to whom it will go. I think the recipients of these items deserve more respect than that.

After reading your post about how gift giving is healing for the crafter, I realised that putting energy into handcrafted goods for others in need helps me to appreciate the blessings that I have in my own life.

Latest blog post: Vintage Magazine Ads

CrochetKitten
CrochetKitten

@Craftypodes @CrochetBlogger If it makes you feel better, I heard the Sandy Hook children had so many teddy bears sent to them that they had to find a warehouse to sort them. Don't know if they ever all made it to the children or not.

Previous post:

Next post: