Times Orange County – April 9, 1997
Susan Roush (Finch) was just looking for a little help in making blankets for needy children. But when ‘The Oprah Winfrey Show’ publicized her efforts, the Binky Patrol exploded into a national phenomenon.
By LESLIE EARNEST, Special to The Times
(photo: Binky Patrol Founder – Susan Finch)
LAGUNA BEACH — Last May, when Susan Roush put a sign-up sheet in front of her Laguna Beach art gallery to see if anyone wanted to help her make blankets for needy children, five women volunteered and the Binky Patrol was born.
A month later, information about the group was televised on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” and the Binky Patrol exploded.
When their home and business telephone numbers flashed across the television screen, a friend recalls saying to her, “Are you prepared for what’s about to happen?” The phone didn’t stop ringing for three days.
Today, 10 months after her telephones went berserk, the 31-year-old Laguna Beach resident oversees 30 Binky Patrol groups across the country. The still-mushrooming organization has made about 3,000 “binkies” for children, many of whom are HIV-positive, abused or abandoned.
The blankets–tiny ones for babies and roomy ones for teens–are delivered free to shelters, hospitals and emergency foster care homes, usually in the communities where they are made.
Roush has just one rule: The children must be allowed to take their blankets with them when they leave, as a reminder that they are loved.
“It’s tangible and it’s theirs,” she said. “It’s something they can hold and snuggle with and count on.”
Roush actually launched the blanket project partly to lift her own spirits as the Susan Drake Gallery, which she and her husband then owned, was failing. The business closed last October, but not before spawning Roush’s successful volunteer venture.
Now working for a public relations firm in Tustin, Jenkins credits her mother, Jo Roush, a Laguna Hills resident, with coming up with the blanket-making idea. After Roush raised the possibility of stitching covers for unwed mothers, Jenkins began noticing that the framers for her gallery had excess framing material that could be made into blankets.
“My head took off and I said, ‘Kids with AIDS need this, kids who are sick and who are abused,’ ” she said. “From there, I just ran with it.”
Today, a network of about 2,000 volunteers are busy across the nation sewing, knitting and crocheting an ever-increasing number of blankets. The groups receive donated fabric from clothing manufacturers, yardage stores, interior designers and other sources. Volunteers are from all age groups.
Local elementary school students recently hand-painted quilting squares that were stitched into a blanket by their teacher. One New York college campus now has a Binky Patrol Club. A 93-year-old Virginia woman has crocheted a steady stream of offerings.
Those with different skills make other contributions.
“When my friend told me about it, I said, ‘I don’t want to make blankets, is there anything else I can do?’ ” said Lisa Haefner, 33, an Aliso Viejo resident who has since created a national database for the organization and helped Jenkins set up the corporation. “It’s just growing. It’s never ending.”
* * * Yorba Linda resident Pattye Duffner, one of those who saw the Binky Patrol mentioned on “The Oprah Winfrey Show,” now plans to start a branch in her community. So far, she has 10 baby blankets of patchwork squares that she stitched together herself. When she visited relatives in Pennsylvania last summer, Duffner, 22, hauled along fabric so her sister could start a group there.
“I wanted her to get going with her son and the Boy Scouts and things like that,” she said.
In Colorado, Nancy Smith has involved four churches and 20 women, who have donated about 150 blankets since November. The women there meet once a month and form an “assembly line” so they can crank out about seven quilted blankets in an afternoon, Smith said.
“We’ve got people cutting, people sewing, people tying, people ironing,” she said Tuesday, after returning from one of the gatherings. “I’m just exhausted.”
But the “blessing of delivery,” Smith said, makes it all worthwhile. Like the time she helped deliver 17 blankets to girls and boys at a center for abused, neglected and troubled teens. It was the boys’ reaction to their “binkies” that most touched her.
“They would put it right to their faces and smell it” and then wrap it around their bodies, she said. “What that tells me is they’re trying to find home. They’re trying to find some security in these blankets.”
Volunteers say their main problem is keeping pace with the broad interest in the project. They are increasingly in need of donations, cash and otherwise. Some volunteers admit they are in deeper than they ever thought they would be.
“We look at each other and shake our heads and say, ‘You know, we called to make a blanket and here we are,’ ” said Virginia resident Michelle Suit, recalling her conversation with a woman who helps her run the Binky Patrol’s Northern Virginia Division chapter, which this week dropped off about 40 blankets for critically ill babies at a hospital in Fairfax.
“But when you see the faces of the kids you’ve helped,” she added, “it really puts it all in perspective for you.”
Copyright Los Angeles Times