So what if man and machine stand out in the Binky Patrol? Blanket maker Jerry Duffner of Anaheim Hills takes the needling to help kids.
Tuesday, January 12, 1999
Most volunteers with the Binky Patrol of North Orange County are grandmotherly types who make blankets to give to needy children.
Then there’s Jerry Duffner, a 24-year-old Anaheim Hills man who makes patchwork blankets for the patrol despite his limited sewing skills. Duffner has grown accustomed to being the only guy when members of the local Binky Patrol get together for their monthly meetings. He’s even gotten used to the teasing he’s endured at the hands of the women.
"They like to say, ‘Look at this fabric–isn’t it great, Jerry?’ " he said with a shrug.
To him, volunteering with the Binky Patrol is worth the ribbing because he’s helping to provide binkies–homemade blankets–to premature infants in hospital intensive care units, children living in shelters for the abused and neglected and chronically ill youngsters in hospitals.
With his red hair, ruddy complexion and broad build, Duffner looks like someone who spends his spare time outdoors chopping wood instead of hunkering over a sewing machine. Yet whenever his busy schedule permits, he pieces together large squares of fabric into blankets as best he can.
"I don’t do anything complicated. I just know how to sew in a straight line–no turns," he said. "If I did too much detail, it would drive me crazy."
Duffner got hooked on making blankets by his 23-year-old wife, Pattye, who founded the North County chapter of the Binky Patrol in June 1997 and serves as the patrol’s area coordinator. She had seen a segment about the Binky Patrol on Oprah Winfrey’s show in June 1996 and began making blankets for the Aliso Viejo-based organization.
"I really like sewing, and I like the idea of spreading warmth and comfort. These are more like security blankets," Pattye said. "I started the chapter so the blankets could go in the community we live in."
Pattye had been volunteering with the patrol for a year when she met Jerry and convinced him to start making blankets too.
"It was in our prenuptial agreement," Jerry joked.
Until then, the only time Jerry had been behind the wheel of a sewing machine was when he took a home economics class in seventh grade. Pattye showed him how to put pieces of fabric together, and soon he was turning out simple patchwork quilts.
The Binky Patrol was founded by Laguna Beach resident Susan Jenkins in May 1996 and has rapidly grown to 150 chapters and more than 3,000 volunteers nationwide, with the help of widespread media attention.
Jerry is one of fewer than 20 men in the entire organization, and Jenkins would like to see the number of male volunteers increase.
"Men think sewing is women’s work, but Jerry’s just so comfortable with who he is that, to him, it’s just a way of giving," Jenkins said.
"Perhaps more men would get involved if they just think of a sewing machine as another apparatus," she said.
Both Duffners assist the Binky Patrol in other ways too. They run the North County chapter, which has 25 members and distributed 699 blankets in 1997 and more than 750 blankets in 1998.
"They’ve held their own meetings and kept that end of the county organized," Jenkins said. "They’re unusual because of their age."
The chapter staged a Bink-a-thon fund-raiser at a fabric store in Orange in October; members sewed 200 blankets in a single day in exchange for financial pledges from donors. At the event, many people were surprised to see a lone male–Jerry–behind a machine churning out blankets.
"What impresses me most about him is that his image is not affected. Jerry doesn’t have any problem with being part of this organization that he feels so strongly about," said Merrilee Greene, a chapter member. "He fits right in. He’s just not as talkative."
Jerry almost never misses the chapter’s monthly meetings at Greene’s home in Orange.
"Everyone respects the fact that he does it. There might be a little razzing, but he’s never uncomfortable," Greene said.
At the meetings, members pick from fabrics and yarn donated by fabric stores, interior design firms and individuals. They can make any type of blanket. Some produce simple comforters by stitching together two large pieces of fabric; others sew intricate quilts or crochet afghans. One woman paints on the fabric and turns it over to others to stitch into a blanket.
"A couple of the women just whip out the most beautiful blankets," Pattye said.
Some members turn in one intricate blanket at the meetings; others have small stacks. Pattye and Jerry contribute one patchwork blanket every other month.
"Hers look better than mine," Jerry said.
Much of the couple’s patrol work is spent delivering binkies to shelters, hospitals and agencies throughout North Orange County, including the St. Jude Medical Center and the Florence Crittenton children’s homes in Fullerton and Casa Teresa, a home in Orange for single pregnant women.
"It’s really satisfying when you go to a hospital and see babies in the intensive care unit and they have your blankets on top of them," Pattye said. "We don’t often get to see the blankets being used, but it’s nice when someone calls and says, ‘We need more blankets.’ "
Jerry spends several hours a week making and distributing blankets and helping with the chapter in addition to being a full-time marketing major at Cal State Fullerton and a full-time manager for Target in Anaheim Hills.
"Jerry’s involved in every aspect of the [binky] business," Greene said.
After joining the patrol, Pattye discovered she liked working with fabrics so much she became an interior designer.
"Most kids got computers when they graduated from high school. I got a sewing machine," she said.
Pattye still has the pink and purple binky she loved as a child. "That might have something to do with my involvement in the Binky Patrol," said Pattye, who devotes 10 to 12 hours a week to patrol-related work.
The Duffners did not stop making blankets or running the chapter even while planning their wedding, which took place last August.
The work, Jerry said, "gives you a good feeling."
To Contact Jerry & Pattye Duffner, you may e-mail them directly.
To contact Binky Patrol Headquarters, please e-mail us.
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