Betty Bimschleger is making spirits bright (and warm) for the lady residents at Grandview Healthcare Center in Washington, and she does it all while sitting on her sofa watching TV.
For the last seven or eight years, Bimschleger has used her spare time to crochet shawls for the ladies at Grandview, primarily the ones who are in wheelchairs. They are just something simple the women can wrap around their shoulders to help them stay warm, said Bimschleger, who tries to downplay her contribution, but September Erxteben, activities director at Grandview, has a different perspective.
“The ladies love them!,” she said. “They wear them frequently or sometimes they use them as a decorative thing on the back of their chair.
“No one ever leaves them behind.”
Bimschleger said it was a neighborhood friend, Melba Peters, who recruited her to begin making the shawls. At the time, Peters was working as a parish nurse for St. Francis Borgia and Our Lady of Lourdes parishes, and this Prayer Shawl Ministry was one project of many headed up by the Health and Wellness Committee.
Bimschleger attended a few of the meetings the committee held on the shawl project, and, despite not knowing how to crochet, decided to sign up.
“This is the only thing I know how to make,” she said, with a laugh.
Bimschelger credits her good friend, Shirley Eckelkamp, with teaching her how to crochet and getting her started. How-to books were not an option for her, she said.
“That would be like reading Greek to me,” she joked.
Many Churches Make Shawls
Prayer Shawl Ministries are popular in this area. At least several churches have them, although there may only be a handful of members knitting and crocheting the shawls.
Susan Woodcock is involved with the Prayer Shawl Ministry at Peace Lutheran Church in Washington. The church started its program in 2002 and since then members have sent out 141 shawls, 24 afghans, 23 hats, 60 scarves and 14 pairs of slippers.
Their items are donated to people in states all over the country and also all over the world through Operation Christmas Child.
“One of the most satisfying experiences being a member of the Prayer Shawl Ministry is to see one of our items being worn to keep them warm or to cover themselves with the love that we put into each item,” Woodcock wrote on the website for Lion Brand Yarn, which has donated yarn to the program.
“Or to see a child from outside our congregation wearing one of our hats on his way to school. One member of our congregation was buried with her prayer shawl.
“This ministry has been so uplifting in my life because of my love to create with yarn and to give of myself to people who I love and total strangers.”
The Prayer Shawl Ministry at Peace Lutheran is a little bit different than what Bimschleger does. For starters, the shawls are much larger and are not always shawls. Sometimes they are neck scarves, hats, afghans or capes.
The items are given to people who are going through a tough time emotionally, such as dealing with a death in the family or a chronic illness.
“The person who knits the shawl prays while they are knitting,” explained Arlys Hopkins, a Peace member, “not necessarily for the person who will receive it, since they make some up in advance of when they are sent out.”
Hopkins has both received a Prayer Shawl from her fellow church members and requested that shawls be sent out to friends of hers when she knows they are struggling with something.
Hopkins’ mother, when she received a small scarf after a relative died, told Hopkins wrapping up with the prayer scarf, even years later, always made her feel better.
“Most people feel so grateful that someone is acknowledging their pain or grief,” said Hopkins. “You do feel the love when you wrap up in one.
“If I wrap up in mine now, it has that aura about it. It’s a wonderful, wonderful thing.”
First United Methodist Church in Washington also has an active Prayer Shawl Ministry. In November the program had a posting on the church’s Facebook page encouraging any who can knit or crochet to get involved. Right now there are three women who participate.
“Prayer Shawls bring warmth and comfort to those who are ill or need to be reminded that we are praying for them. There are no meetings to attend and you can work at your own pace!” the post read.
Marie Hug, who oversees the program currently, said it has been going on for many years. The first shawl was made for a woman in the First United congregation.
The program is similar to that at Peace Lutheran. The person knitting or crocheting the shawl says prayers as they are creating it.
The shawls are given to members, and the request for one typically comes from someone else, Hug explained.
“It’s amazing the love that’s in there,” she commented. “You do feel it so much.
“You would be amazed at the energy you feel off it. It’s the prayers that are lifted for you.”
The shawls are a large size, about 32 inches wide by 72 inches long, said Hug, who has made about 35 over the years.
One of her favorite styles are ones she made using odds and ends of scrap yarn. It was a white base with rows of pastel colors.
One woman who received one like it said, “That’s God’s own rainbow!”
“That was moving to me,” Hug admits.
Hug has received thank-you notes from people who received shawls. One described the Prayer Shawl as “a godsend.”
Men are sometimes recipients of the shawls too, and they are equally as grateful. One man, when he met Hug’s daughter and was told she was the one who made his shawl, walked straight up to her and gave her a hug.
“ ‘You don’t know how much I’ve used that shawl,’ he told her,” Hug recalled.
Helps Her Stay Busy
Bimschleger can relate to all of those uplifting feelings. It’s part of what keeps her crocheting for the ladies at Grandview. That, and her need to stay busy.
“I do it because I can’t just sit here with my arms folded watching TV,” said Bimschleger. “So whenever I have spare time, maybe while I’m watching TV or not, I do this.”
She crochets about 50 shawls a year and takes them up to Grandview whenever she “has a bunch” ready. She hands them over to Erxteben, who includes them in welcome baskets for new female residents.
Erxteben said she’s only “caught” Bimschleger dropping off shawls once or twice in the last seven years. Bimschleger prefers to remain behind the scenes. She doesn’t want any attention for her donations.
Erxteben said she has offered to donate yarn to the project, but Bimschleger always turns her down, saying she has a steady supply.
The yarn she uses comes compliments of a friend in Union who visits area thrift shops looking for deals.
“Sometimes she really hits the jackpot,” said Bimschleger. “I work with whatever I have. This one is ruffley, but I work with all kinds of yarn, except baby yarn.”
The churches noted that their members often provide the yarn they use.