Warm heart, busy hands help homeless

Date: 10/16/2014

EAST LONGMEADOW – For about three decades, Ruth Owen, a resident since 1949, has been knitting hats and other apparel to benefit homeless people and others in need. She typically knits 80 to 100 hats annually.

“There’s a lot of need out there,” Owen, 90, said. “There’s always somebody out looking, not for a handout, but for help. And there are people who repay you for your help. Not all, but a lot of people do when they can.”

Owen said her hats are mostly donated through the East Longmeadow United Methodist Church to the Gray House, a neighborhood human service agency at 22 Sheldon St. in Springfield, and to the Council of Churches of Western Massachusetts.

“Years ago, when I used to make mittens and I worked at the SPCA (Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals) there was a little girl [who] came in that day with her mother and I knew that I had made those mittens,” Owen said.

“And so I said to her, ‘Where did you get the mittens?’ And she said, ‘I got them at school’ and the Council of Churches used to give them out to schools a lot,” she continued.

Her love of knitting began during her adolescence, she explained. Her grandmother, aunt, and mother were all knitters.

Her grandmother, Martha Wohlfart, a native of Springfield, received an award from a humanitarian organization in the United Kingdom for knitting fingerless gloves for British airmen to use during World War II from 1938 to 1939.

“She used to knit some sort of knitted hats that went under the helmets that the pilots used to wear, but she always had to leave a hole for the ears so they could put on their foam [rubber inserts],” Owen added.

She said her grandmother used to knit afghan blankets for all her grandchildren.

Owen said she recently sent a box of mittens and hats to Deaconess Gayle Lesure at the Open Heart Ministries in Clarksburg, W. Va. Lesure used to be a member of the East Longmeadow Untied Methodist Church.

The Open Heart Ministry is a ecumenical church cooperative consisting of 22 United Methodist parish churches across the Clarksburg and Bridgeport, W. Va., areas, serving the basic needs of communities, according to the organization’s website.

“I filled the box,” she added.  “I had 36 hats and 12 pairs of mittens. I knit some of the mittens but not all of them.”

During the month of December, the United Methodist Church also hosts a gifting tree, consisting of almost the entire congregation donating to humanitarian efforts, Owen added.

Last year, the gifting tree program bought mosquito nets for communities in Africa to help prevent malaria. Habitat for Humanity has also been an organization that the congregation has donated to. 

“I think you need that extra goodness that comes out of going to church,” she explained. “It brings out the goodness in people and it helps people; it helps you to become a better person, I think.”