Jenny Giacomini gives security blankets to kids

No one feels less for their efforts, Ferguson said, which is why the chapter is productive. “There is nothing about our group that is about perfectionism. It’s not about impressing each other. It’s about helping children, so everyone has a common goal.”

A regular recipient is the Community Child Care Council, which runs 14 state-funded preschool programs for low-income families in Sonoma County. Giacomini delivered 172 blankets to the organization in the past month. Director Amy McIntyre said they’d been given a year long enough to gift each child on their program with a blanket.

“The kids love their blankets,” she said. “Often they will bring them back to school as their sleeping blankets. That means they are very popular if they want to have them as a sleeping blanket.”

Robin Bowen, executive director of The Child Parent Institute, a parent education and mental health agency for families in Sonoma County, said the blankets mean a lot, even to the teens.

“Many sleep in cars or shelters, or their parents can’t afford heat at night,” Bowen said. A counselor told how a mother with a 2-month-old baby came in for treatment and help with bonding and attachment. She was under a lot of stress and also took care of a teenage daughter who had recently confided in her that she had been molested repeatedly.

In a note to Bowen, the counselor said, “Sending mom and baby home after being treated with a handmade quilt that had been sewn with care was just what Mom needed as a reminder of her role in caring for all of her children in the face of such great adversity.”

For some new moms who receive baby blankets through the Petaluma Health Center, it’s a treasure.

“Some can’t even afford a blanket, and for them it’s a precious gift. They get overwhelmed,” said the clinic’s health educator, Maria Hermosilla.

Inspired by a story

It was a Christmas Eve article in Parade Magazine in 1995 that inspired Karen Loucks of Denver to supply handmade blankets to a local pediatric cancer center, giving birth to Project Linus.

The story, titled “Joy to the World,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning photojournalist Eddie Adams, was about 3-year-old Laura, whose special “blanket” helped her get through two years of brutal treatment for leukemia.

The idea resonated with home sewers, knitters and quilters, who love to practice their craft and find extra meaning in it for a child who could use the comfort. Since then, 320 chapters have been published in all 50 states.

In the past 26 years, volunteers have sewn more than 8.5 million blankets for children. The project was named in collaboration with Peanuts Worldwide for Linus, Charles Schulz’s cartoon character who is never without his security blanket.

Like the founder of the organization, Giacomini was similarly inspired to start a local chapter in 2003 after reading about Project Linus.

She had been knitting and crocheting for most of her life and it seemed like a meaningful outlet for her hobby. In retrospect, she thinks she was also motivated by her own need for some TLC. Her father had died two years earlier. The two were close and she was still dealing with her grief.

“I was looking for something to fill in me,” she said.

The 70-year-old spent decades at banks, from desk clerk to branch manager; her last position was at the then Petaluma Bank. But she had an empty nest and the business skills to organize. She made flyers looking for volunteers to help make blankets. But when a local newspaper wrote about her efforts, it caught on.

“I went out on Sunday and when I got home I had like 200 emails and I don’t even remember how many phone calls. Probably 50. That’s where it really started.’

She annexed her son’s old bedroom and turned it into a storage and processing space for Project Linus. Sometimes there are hundreds of custom blankets stacked in her closet. Giacomoni sews Project Linus labels onto each blanket, ensuring it is in good condition for the child who will soon cherish it.

One of her biggest challenges lately isn’t getting volunteers, but getting the blankets for children who need them.

“Part of the problem is finding the person you need to interact with. If you find a contact, they are transferred or they stop and you have to start at the beginning,” she said.

Sometimes when she reads a sad story in the paper about children who have been injured or traumatized, she will find a way to provide a little TLC with blankets. In one such case, a child was killed in an accident in the Sonoma Valley. Giacomini arranged to bring blankets to all the children in his class.

“We put down the covers and let the kids choose which one they wanted. The director was in tears,” she said.

Giacomini does her job just like Santa Claus, with love but with little personal contact. She delivers most blankets in large blue bags to adults who work for organizations. But she did have heartbreaking letters, keepsakes and photos by the children who were given blankets to cuddle, just like her own son so many years ago.

“It doesn’t matter how big it is. It doesn’t matter if it’s made perfectly,’ she said. ‘A child doesn’t care. It’s reassuring.”

You can reach Staff Writer Meg McConahey at 707-521-5204 or On Twitter @megmcconahey.

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