How local artisans helped keep people warm this winter

FLINT, Michigan -- The COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to find new hobbies or re-find new ones that can be done safely inside. That need for activities helped Flint Handmade’s Yarn Brigade create more scarves, hats, and gloves than ever for its annual “Operation: Warm-Up Flint” initiative.


Each year, members of the Yarn Brigade, coordinated by Flint Handmade member Hayley Randol, make and donate items to the operation. Then, the winter items are strategically dropped off at high-traffic areas around the city for people in need, including near bus stops, shelters, nonprofit organizations, and other locations. The items also have messages including, “free to a good home” or “take if you need to warm up.”


In 2020, Operation: Warm Up Flint had more than 500 items donated by approximately 20 artisans. Typically, about 10-12 people participate in the initiative each year, with the number of donated items ranging from about 200-350 over the last few years.


“Because of COVID, so many people were at home and got into knitting or crocheting, or got back into it, or did more of it,” said Crystal Pepperdine, founder and executive director of Flint Handmade. “Yarn Brigade members are all knitters and crocheters of various skill levels. As a group, we can make a large impact for those in need.”


Although the items are distributed in the winter months, donations of handmade items are accepted year-round. Flint Handmade arranges contact-free porch pickups, with another collection drive scheduled March 20-April 3.


The items being displayed at public gathering spaces also add an artistic element to the initiative and celebrate the creativity and craftsmanship that exists in the Flint community.


“Expressing your creativity is a part of humanity,” Pepperdine said. “It is a nice way to do charitable giving as an interactive art experience.”


Pepperdine said Flint Handmade also does direct donations of winter items to organizations in need. Organizations make requests for items needed and quantities, and Flint Handmade members make and deliver them.


“We’ve heard from people who are very touched by having handmade items,” Pepperdine said. “It reminds them of their moms or grandmas (knitting things). They appreciate knowing people in the community care about them.”


The Yarn Brigade also does other yearly projects that provide handmade items to organizations in Flint. They’ve made sensory items for dementia patients at a senior center, mittens for kids in foster care, and slippers for women at women’s shelters in recent years. In total, Yarn Brigade members have created and donated nearly 2,000 items for various initiatives in the community over the years.


Flint Handmade is a nonprofit organization that supports creative expression and artistic entrepreneurship through handcrafting in the Flint area. Typically, they have meetings and events at local restaurants and businesses, including a popular Coloring Party at Tenacity Brewing, as well as craft supply swaps, and fairs. The pandemic has limited their ability to do events, but the organization is still finding ways to celebrate the creativity that lives in Flint.


They release coloring pages from local artists monthly, including a partnership with Flint Public Art Project to make coloring pages of some of the murals in the city. Flint Public Library (currently located in Courtland Center Mall while the main facility is being renovated) prints the pages and makes them available.


They also do care packages of local handmade goods that are purchased wholesale from artisans and then assembled into themed packages, including a Valentine’s Day package that is coming soon. The purchases are a way to continue supporting local artists during the pandemic. Pepperdine noted that they’ve been able to support more than 25 artisans, with purchases of their goods totaling more than $5,000 through the program.


“We want people to remember how important it is to support local even though you can’t go to a craft fair,” she said.


Information about Flint Handmade is available online, including ways to get involved with or support the organization.


“I’m really proud of how people donate their time to help the community,” Pepperdine said. “We are very much looking forward to being able to host events in person again when it’s safe to gather.”

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Read more articles by Patrick Hayes.