Herald Tribune – News Coast

Enveloped by fear and desperation, Samantha Lieberman fled a violent boyfriend and sought refuge at Sarasota’s Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center.

Her son, Michael, was only 2 weeks old.

Enveloped by fear and desperation, Samantha Lieberman fled a violent boyfriend and sought refuge at Sarasota’s Safe Place and Rape Crisis Center.

Her son, Michael, was only 2 weeks old.

In the two years since, Lieberman often returned to SPARCC in her mind.

What could she do to repay their gifts of hope, guidance and safety? What could she do for the women and children who would arrive at the crisis center in the darkness of a real-life nightmare?

Today, Lieberman plans to provide SPARCC the first of many gifts made with loving hands.

Since March, she has been sewing soft and cuddly blankets for children escaping domestic violence. Blankets will also be given to babies, children and even teens in other situations where the comfort of a hand-sewn blanket is just what is needed.

“SPARCC was always going to be first,” Lieberman said. “They were the first people I called. The people there are so loving and caring. They got me through all that.”

Lieberman has joined a national organization called the Binky Patrol, named for a blanket-clutching, but charming homeless man in Binky Patrol founder Susan Finch’s hometown of Laguna, Calif.

The nonprofit organization has chapters in 37 states and several countries. More than 3,000 volunteers make quilts and blankets for children in foster homes, babies born HIV-positive or addicted to drugs, abused children and young people facing serious medical challenges.

“My mom wanted me to help make blankets for teen-age mothers,” Roush recalled. “I hadn’t sewn since seventh grade home-ec class.”

The rewarding feelings of helping children in need led Roush to advertise in 1996 for volunteers to help make more blankets. Five women responded. Four are still part of the Binky Patrol.

Binky went big time quickly when Oprah Winfrey featured the project on her television show and Family Circle magazine also profiled Roush and the volunteer seamstresses.

Even the homeless Binky himself donated a dollar to the cause.

“He said, ‘It’s for the babies,’ which just shows you that anybody can make a difference,” Roush said.

But convincing Lieberman that she had the talents to make blankets and start a chapter took some work.

“It took me weeks to finish my first one,” said Lieberman, who can produce a standard 36-by-36-inch blanket in a night, though she typically takes a little longer with a 2-year-old in the house.

“There was the fear that it wouldn’t be good enough,” she said. “My husband (Robert) kept telling me that they’ll be thrilled with anything you give them.”

Roush echoed that pep talk from 3,000 miles away.

“She (Lieberman) was so funny,” Roush said. “She kept writing me asking how to do this, how to do that. I don’t know how many times I told her that it doesn’t matter. If it makes it through the washer and dryer and it’s made with love, then it’s perfect.”

Lieberman is now the first to say that the blankets are simple to make.

The challenge she faces is gathering more volunteers.

Several organizations, such as the Friendship Quilting Guild and the on-line group A Friend Helping a Friend Club have donated blankets and materials, as have stores such as Calico Corners and the Knit-Nook in Sarasota.

Squares, yarn, batting and other Binky materials now take up space in nearly every closet and corner in the Liebermans’ cozy Sarasota home and half of their garage.

Lieberman says she could use all the help sewing that she can get, however. Volunteers can either work together or in their own homes at their own pace.

Middle school home-ec class sewing skill is more than adequate.

“I can teach anybody to cross-stitch,” she said. “I can teach anybody to crochet. And quilting is knowing how to sew in a straight line.”

Roush also appealed to volunteers in the Sarasota area to join Lieberman.

“I know it’s being done right in Sarasota, but she needs more hands,” Roush said. “A couple of friends can be a chapter. If you make one, you’ve comforted a child.”

Lieberman might never meet the children who receive a Binky blanket at SPARCC, but she can well imagine how they’ll react.

When her son, Michael, was 8 months old, he went to the hospital to have tubes put in his ears after months of ear infections. He received a blanket from an anonymous donor.

“Even though he was only 8 months old, he was thrilled to have that blanket,” Lieberman said. “He clung to it.”

Susan Lanier, volunteer coordinator at SPARCC, said blankets will offer a little security at a time when a child’s world is turned upside down. It’s not unusual for a parent and child to arrive at SPARCC in the middle of the night, just the right time for a soft and warm blanket.

“These children are homeless because of domestic violence,” Lanier said. “They’re removed from their own blankets and toys and bed. This will be wonderful for the littlest victims. It’s immediately a sense of ownership, so maybe they won’t feel so lost.”