Published Saturday, Feb. 10, 2001, in the San Jose Mercury News


Each Monday and Saturday, Nancy Edwards’ West San Jose home hums with a special duet: the whir of sewing machines and the soft chatter of women as they put together quilts, stitch by stitch, to comfort kids in crisis.

Comforting kids — and turning an itch to stitch into a hobby that helps others — is the basis of the Binky Patrol.

The patrol was started in Southern California in May 1996 by Susan Finch, who felt a need to help children and did so by combining a love of kids, fabric and quilts. By the end of 2000, more than 60,000 young people had been given binkies, the Binky Patrol had become a presidential Point of Light and 10,000 Americans across the nation, most of them women, were making the special quilts.

Twenty-four of the members are in the San Jose chapter, although they also live in Cupertino, Sunnyvale, Los Gatos and Los Altos. Like thousands of others in the non-profit, loosely knit organization, the local women do their sewing or knitting of quilts and blankets at home.

They make 45-by-48-inch binkies for older children and 3-by-3-foot blankets for little ones. Each week, they carry their output to Edwards’ home and gather for some group stitching. Those who have jobs outside the home meet on Saturdays; the rest meet on Mondays.

Their work is given for distribution in San Jose to Brandon House Shelter, Children’s Home Society, Family & Children’s Services, House of Grace, House on the Hill, Next Door Solutions, Santa Maria Urban Ministry and You Are Special Foundation. Binkies also go to the Saratoga Sub-Acute Hospital, Rebekah Children’s Services in Gilroy, and Burt Children’s Center in San Francisco.

On a recent cold Monday morning, 10 of the members retreated to the warmth of the house from an enclosed porch where they usually meet around a table big enough to cut rolls of donated materials or their own washable yardage into quilt squares.

Portable tables, put up in the living room, stretched to the kitchen where Doris Lucas of Los Gatos and Bev Goeltzenleuchter of San Jose were whizzing away on sewing machines, seaming together the outer edges of quilt tops and bottoms containing sandwiches of batting.

“It’s very rewarding to help others,’ Lucas said.

“Quilting is my hobby,’ Goeltzenleuchter said. “This gives me the opportunity to do what I love to do and help at the same time — a double joy.’

The women at this meeting were assembling quilts from 400 squares hand-painted by students at nearby Carlton School as part of the youngsters’ acts of kindness and justice done in honor of the late Martin Luther King Jr.

“I made love blankets for my grandson, and he loved them so much I made some for his baby cousin,’ said Shirley Eckstrom of San Jose as she attached batting to the back of a quilt so it wouldn’t bunch up when washed.

Eckstrom brought 15 of her little blankets to Edwards after learning on the Internet about the San Jose Chapter of the Binky Patrol.

Edwards, coordinator of the chapter, stores stacks of material, batting, and an ironing board in her guest bedroom.

When real guests moved in during the Christmas holidays, she confided with a laugh, it was a tight fit.

“I’d like to go into schools and groups like the Girl Scouts and have the children sew,’ Edwards said. “Maybe we could go into senior centers, too. The seniors would have to have donations of washable fabrics and yarn. But they need to be needed just like there is a need for what they can make.’

Bob Edwards helps at the meetings by photographing finished quilts. His wife keeps track of what’s being done by putting the pictures in an album.

Almost ready for the camera was a quilt being worked on by Irene Snarr, 80, of Cupertino. “I love sewing and love to do something for others,’ she said. “It keeps my hands busy.’

Some of the members found the chapter through the Mercury News Lend A Hand column. But Shirley Sferra of Los Altos learned about the group from her daughter in Southern California.

“I’ve been looking forward to doing it,’ Sferra said as she sewed a quilt. “But it’s a bit disturbing that so many children need this.’

Betty Barnacle can be reached at or (408) 920-5321.