June 17, 2001

The Binky Patrol, started by a Laguna Beach woman, celebrates five years of service and over 100,000 binkies delivered across the nation and in five countries.

A homeless man was her inspiration. Laguna Beach locals nicknamed him Binky because he wore a blanket on his head.

That’s it, Susan Finch thought, watching Binky walk past her art gallery one day. Everyone needs a blanket.

Roush had been wanting to give back to the community, because her mom had always taught her that’s what you do. But every time she tried to volunteer, it didn’t fit her schedule or there were too many rules or too many meetings.

Now she had an idea. She could make blankets at her own speed in her own home and then deliver them to kids in foster homes and hospitals. She recruited her mom, Josephine, named the organization Binky Patrol and put out the word.

Binky got wind of it. The homeless man stopped Roush on the street and opened his Velcro wallet. Inside was $1. “This is to help the babies,” he said.

Roush used the $1 to send five postcards to five women she thought might want to join the Binky Patrol. They are still with her today. Along with 5,000 others. Roush’s Binky Patrol has marched into 43 states, spawning 120 chapters that have delivered more than 100,000 blankets so far.

On June 23, they celebrate their five-year anniversary. They are doing it by throwing “the world’s biggest baby shower,” for pregnant women living in shelters. Simultaneous baby showers are being thrown in Washington, Florida, Ohio, Indiana, Colorado and San Jose.

The founding chapter will host one at the Downtown Community Center in Anaheim. The public is invited and asked to bring a wrapped baby gift. The Anaheim shower will benefit four shelters: Casa Teresa in Orange, Toby’s House and Kathy’s House in Capo Beach, and Precious Life in Los Alamitos.

A couple of hundred Binky Patrollers are expected. They are part of a colorful cast. “A lot of people are healing from a loss of some sort,” Roush said. “Others are just looking for a sewing outlet, and everyone in their family already has a quilt.”

“Or three or five,” said member Carolyn Berndt, 33, of Irvine.

There’s the Mission Viejo insomniac who quilts at night after work, turning in 120 quilts every six months. The mentally retarded woman in Riverside who started a chapter for her vocational group. The restaurateur who runs a chapter out of her establishment, Gino’s, in Portland, Ore. And the professional quilter who churns blankets out of her Snowmass Village chalet.

Lisa Nagurski, 36, first saw the Binky Patrol on cable TV, riding in the Patriots Day Parade in Laguna Beach. “I started crying,” the San Juan Capistrano woman said. “I went to their Web site. I wanted to keep my distance. I can’t even watch McDonald’s commercials without crying. But here I am deep in the whole thing.”

Not as deep as Dottie Blan. The Los Alamitos grandmother is what they call a binky mentor. She has started about 10 chapters. “I’m sort of a spokeswoman,” Blan said, calling from Oklahoma, where she was instigating yet another chapter.

Her chapter alone delivers up to 1,000 blankets a year. She has personally tracked down homeless men on the streets to hand some out. But most go to teens. “People forget teen-agers,” she said. “When they’re displaced, they really need someone to say, ‘I care about you.’ ”

Ernalee Munday, 66, was facing retirement with a husband who likes to fish. “And that’s nice,” she said from Marysville, Wash., “but it’s not something I wanted to spend the rest of my life doing. I wanted to do something to pay back society.”

Now, when she sits in her husband’s fishing boat, it’s with fabric and a needle and thread. “Oh, God bless her,” she said of Roush. “Doing this has answered something in my life.”

It answered something in Angela Largent’s life, too. Largent, 59, lost all four brothers in a car crash in 1997. Still struggling from depression, she was bumping around on the Internet one day when she stumbled across the Binky Patrol mission.

“Well, I read it, and I read it, and I read it again. And I just made up my mind that the year 2000 was going to be a lot different for me. And believe me, it was. This has changed my life.”

Four days a week she sews with women at nursing homes, changing their lives, too. Her oldest blanket maker died a few weeks ago at 101.

Largent guesses she has 60 volunteers in Crawfordsville, Ind., 38 living in nursing homes. They serve 10 organizations, including the tri- county fire department, which stocks the blankets on its trucks to give to fire and car-crash victims.

The group’s most prolific blanket maker, by most accounts, is Laura McCoy, 62. She makes 20 a month – when she’s not managing an electronics firm.

“I just like goals,” McCoy said. “One year I decided I was going to make 250 blankets. My family’s sending me to fabrics anonymous.”

McCoy’s Mission Viejo home is Binky Patrol central. The founding chapter (there are eight chapters in Orange County) holds its monthly meeting here. Members gather to discuss raising funds to buy supplies. They pass out fabric donated by manufacturers. And they turn in finished blankets for delivery to shelters, children’s homes and hospitals.

It’s not a contest, but members take pride in making the blankets as colorful and cheery and snuggly as possible. Fabric is cut into squares, then sewn together on sewing machines. It takes less than five hours to make a small blanket.

Of course, these days the Binky Patrol is in demand. Locally, they ride in parades and set up sewing machines at community events like Race for the Cure in Newport Beach and the Laguna Classic 10K and 5K.

Every fall there is a nationwide Bink-a-thon, where chapters gather to fire up row after row of sewing machines and see how many blankets they can collectively hammer out in one day.

Roush also fields about 60 e-mails a day, often from Girl Scout troops, schools, sororities, churches, temples, quilt guilds and corporations that want to somehow get involved.

It’s a long way for the girl who once got a C for the red polka-dot gym bag she sewed in seventh-grade home economics – the last thing she sewed, in fact, until starting Binky Patrol.

Roush, 35, still lives in Laguna Beach, but she no longer owns an art gallery. Today she does Web development for the cities of Anaheim, Brea and Laguna Woods. And she is making her most special binky to date. It’s for her own baby.

Due date? “When else?” she says with a laugh. “Oct. 27 — the 2001 Bink-A-Thon.”
lbasheda@link.freedom.com – to write to the author of this article.

Binky Patrol is very appreciative and grateful for the months of research Lori Basheda put into this article.  She has come to our meetings, spent time on the phone with many of our chapter leaders and really made the effort to get to the heart of what we do.  Thank you Lori.  See you at the shower next week!