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Knitting for the kids

Local knitters make mittens, hats and scarves for elementary students

A local knitting group knit hats, mittens and scarves for the Saranac Lake Elementary School kids. (Provided photo — Katie Laba)

SARANAC LAKE — “The idea came to me in July,” said Gail Brill of the community knitters group she and a band of area women formed over the summer. She’d seen the number of masks that the Tri-Lakes Community Makers had sewn in response to the pandemic, and began thinking about all the kids needing to be outside into the winter to comply with physical distancing rules at school and at play.

“The next thing I knew I had a lot of really eager knitters with a lot of wool to use up,” said Brill.

So a group of local knitters — about two dozen women including Brill’s 92-year-old mother and the EMT Garage Knitting Ladies of Lake Placid — began, well, knitting. The only stipulation was that they knit only mittens, hats and scarves, and that those be “knitted for smaller people.”

Next came Diane Fox, Saranac Lake Central School District superintendent, and Erika Bezio, the district’s community school liasion, to help the knitters coordinate getting all those mittens to the kids in time for the cold weather. And not just a few kids, but 800 or 900.

“That’s a lot of knitting,” said Brill.

But it was a project they all felt strongly about, and so they got out their knitting needles and yarn.

“My son went to Saranac Lake public schools, and I’d heard stories of kids coming to school with no mittens,” said Brill. “No kids should be cold in Saranac Lake. There’s no such thing as bad weather, only bad clothes.”

Then the stuff started to come in, including from locals who had spread across the country from Alaska to Florida. It was during the summer of COVID-19, when folks were sheltering in place or just staying home as much as possible.

“A lot of people were sitting around thinking: What am I going to do today?” said Brill.

What they ended up doing was knitting. The women set up a fund at the Village Mercantile, one of the local shops that has yarn, so knitters could come in and not have to pay for supplies. By the end of the summer, they had 151 hats, 106 scarves and 108 pairs of mittens.

“Knitting has been shown to decrease cortisol levels in the bloodstream and boost serotonin levels,” said Sunita Halasz, one of the knitters Brill assembled, who made a dozen pairs of mittens and six hats. “That was exactly what I needed as a mental reboot during COVID. For each piece I knitted, I thought about the little person who would be choosing it and hopefully loving to wear it.”

Brill’s mother Joyce Henklein learned how to knit when she was 10 or 11, she said, when the Red Cross came to her school in 1939 or 1940 to get the kids to knit scarves for U.S. troops stationed in Greenland.

“Our class, including the boys, would knit 6-foot scarves, with khaki yarn,” said Henklein. “It took forever.” She still knits — “it’s my favorite pastime” — and says that she knit over 40 pairs of mittens and six hats for her daughter’s project.

The items were collected and delivered to Bezio — Hefty bags full of them — who sent them to the district’s two elementary schools, Petrova and Bloomingdale. Now the staff is waiting to distribute the gear to the kids, in time for the approaching colder temperatures. And the knitters?

“We’re kind of in a holding pattern,” said Brill. As knitters mostly are.

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