Staten Island women make blankets, booties for those in need

Publish Date:

Thursday, March 26, 2009


News Organization:

Staten Island Advance

Source URL:

STATEN ISLAND, NY - GRYMES HILL -- Her hands may knot up from arthritis, but Edith Nasta can still work a crochet needle. The use of two fingers is all she needs to put the finishing touches on a wrap that is going to keep a lucky newborn warm.

Ms. Nasta, a resident of Sunrise Assisted Living, Grymes Hill, has crocheted dozens of blankets that have been donated to Staten Islanders - everyone from fellow residents to hospital patients.

"It keeps me from going crazy," said the great-grandmother of 10, as she closed out on a red and white baby blanket bound for Richmond University Medical Center (RUMC).

Like an integral piece of a good patchwork quilt, Ms. Nasta is a member of a knitting and craft club that involves senior residents and knitting and quilting enthusiasts from Temple Israel Reform Congregation in Randall Manor. Collectively, they've turned out hundreds of blankets, booties, hats and scarves that have been given to almost anyone in need, from cancer patients receiving treatment at RUMC to the homeless seeking help from Project Hospitality.

Tina Carbonaro, left, and Eileen Tepper display one of the group's handmade blankets.

"Besides the camaraderie and the fun, it carries out the mission of the Temple," said Pam Carlton, a member of Temple Israel who is working on a delicate ribbon scarf. Donating the fruits of their labor is an act of tikkum olam, Ms. Carlton explains. In Hebrew, it means "repairing the world."

"We're repairing the world one stitch at a time," she said. The group meets twice a month to craft, enjoy homemade brownies and engage in lively conversation.

A cornerstone of the club is Shirley Sacoff, a current resident of Sunrise and an original member of Temple Israel Reform Congregation, which was founded in 1948. Mrs. Sacoff learned to knit as a young girl growing up in Stapleton. She and her friends would knit and chat for hours at a nearby shop. "We were four little old ladies at age 8," she recalled.

Mrs. Sacoff, a retired public school teacher, had moved to Florida, but she returned to Staten Island and moved into the assisted living facility shortly after it opened its doors in 2006.

Meanwhile, an informal knitting group was formed at the Temple. Mrs. Carlton, Judith Pessah, and JoAnn Lewis would meet at the home of fellow congregant Eileen Tepper to knit, quilt and chat. Ms. Tepper was known as the group's "master quilter," and her craft room seemed like an ideal venue.

It was Mrs. Sacoff's daughter, Bryn Biren, who serves as Temple Israel's Outreach Facilitator, who suggested sharing the in-house experience with her mother and other residents of Sunrise. The others agreed.

With the help of Sunrise's activities and volunteer coordinator, Aprillynne Capone, the club began to meet twice a month and welcomed all residents to join.

Shortly after, Mrs. Biren reached out to non-profit organizations who might have a need for the hand-crafted items. That led to a strategic alliance with RUMC, where blankets for adults and children were only some of the what patients needed. Sunrise members Geri Shearer and Tina Carbonaro have specialized in creating woolen hats for chemotherapy patients, for instance.

The combined talents of the women are embodied in an intricate quilt that featured Tepper's quilting skills and the knitting expertise of Sunrise resident Ms. Carbonaro.

"This could be a piece of artwork hung on a wall," Mrs. Biren pointed out, noting it will be donated to the Temple for a charity raffle.

While they use every thread possible - even maintaining a basket of scraps they call "schnibbles" - the club is always in need of skeins of wool.

Anyone interested in joining the group or donating materials, such as wool or knitting needles, should call Bryn Biren at 718-447-6225.

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