January 30, 2001

Colleen Graham of Watertown looks over a “binky” — a handmade blanket that will be distributed to where ever a child experiencing illness, abuse or trauma needs one. (Photo by Brent Zell)
The common single person may not have the word “binky” in his or her vocabulary, but parents in the know understand it well.

Translated from baby-ese, “binky” is short for “blanket” for the toddler that is just starting to form words. But for thousands of children in the United States, it means much more than that.

In May 1996, Susan Jenkins of California came up with the simple idea of trying to get a small group of volunteers together to make handmade “binkies” for terminally ill children, abused children, or those experiencing some form of trauma. An article about the group in a local newspaper made its way to a brief mention on Oprah Winfrey’s talk show.

That kick-started the “Binky Patrol,” as it’s now called. The group got over 700 phone calls over the next few days after the broadcast. “Family Circle” magazine did an article on the group a few years later that led to over 2,100 letters and 105 new Binky Patrol chapters by June of 1999. Today, the Binky Patrol has over 5,000 volunteers across the nation and has delivered over 100,000 blankets as of Jan. 1, 2001, according to the group’s Web site.

Colleen Graham of Watertown remembered watching that telecast and thinking it would be a good idea to start a chapter in this area. But, despite Graham’s love of both sewing and children, that idea seemed a ways off.

“I was working full time and didn’t have necessary time or space in the house to do it,” she said. “In 1998, I decided the next year I’d do something about it.”

True to her word, she got a Patrol group going in South Dakota in the summer of 1999. The state’s chapter, of which Graham is coordinator, supplies not just blankets but also knitted booties and hats to hospitals and shelters throughout the state. In Watertown, the Patrol sends goods to the Women’s Resource Center and the police department.

Graham and the volunteers in her chapter have put out 100 binkies since its inception, including 18 for the Bink-A-Thon during last October’s Make-A-Difference Day, a day set aside to celebrate volunteerism in the United States. The material for the binkies – which are required to be at least 36 inches by 36 inches – comes from donations.