New Jersey Sews in Unity – Getting the Band Back Together

In July of 2020 and March of 2021, Woman Around Town published articles about NJ Sews in Unity. This Facebook group was formed to sew masks and other essential PPE when items were greatly needed by the medical community and the public. As cloth masks are no longer in demand, the talented craftspeople are making an exciting comeback with a new mission. They have banded together to keep people warm this winter by knitting, crocheting and sewing items that are distributed by Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless based in Elizabeth, New Jersey.  By the end of January members had crafted and donated over 200 hats, more than 100 scarves, dozens of blankets and afghans along with other much needed items. And they have continued to utilize their talents for the good of the community. 

The group works together seamlessly. Phyllis Kivett-Howard has offered the use of her front porch in Cranford, NJ as a “depot” where volunteers drop off their donations and can pick up donated materials such as yarn or fleece.  Phyllis commented, “We switched gears very nicely and folks have truly stepped up with the knitting. Many members are so talented and have done both sewing and knitting. I think it works because of the easy process, bins and drop off rule. Make what you want, when you want and how you want and the final projects are like Etsy. The items are beautiful.” And the Facebook page also has a number of moderators that keeps everyone enthusiastic and well informed including Jeanne Golden, known as Divine Missjay.

Peggy Sue Brooke delivers them weekly to Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless where they are distributed.  Brooke also spoke about her own contributions and how the group got started. “I knit constantly.  I always have my knitting with me. I started knitting or crocheting blankets for little kids at the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless. I posted on the New Jersey Sews in Unity Facebook page asking if anyone wanted to join in. The response has been very enthusiastic and they are very productive. These people are incredible. It makes my heart sing and gives me hope for humanity.”

We want to acknowledge the talented craftspeople that includes Debra Rutar-Guravage who crochets baby blankets, hats, scarves and ear warmers; Linda Farrell, hats and scarves; Annemarie Stanko, hats and scarves; Martha Goodnough Reading, one of the groups moderators who knits and crochets scarves; Kathleen Miller Prunty, baby blankets and scarves; Margot Partridge, knitted hats; Robin Marko, scarves and baby blanket; Mary Anderson Wislocki, scarves; Pat Wichmann, scarves and a shawl; Karen Schmidt Liedo, knitted hats with her daughter Sabrina; Jennifer Fay Collins, crocheted hats and scarves; and Jessica Harring, crocheted scarves and her daughter, Juliette Harring made children’s fleece scarves. 

Woman Around Town wanted to know a little bit more about Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless and how they have successfully worked with NJ Sews in Unity. We interviewed the organization’s Director of Development Renaee Smith. Here’s our Q and A.

Tell us a little about the mission of Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless.

The mission of the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless is to serve the immediate needs of the homeless and the housing insecure. We strive to empower people with the tools to transition to safe, affordable and permanent housing. We are charged with advocating for people to achieve housing equity and participate in the larger community.

Over the last 40 years the Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless has been a leader serving the homeless and poor in Union County, New Jersey. We provide a safety net to over 3,300 individuals every year with emergency shelter, homelessness prevention and comprehensive services that help families work toward self-sufficiency. We have expanded our services to include treating the root causes and impacts of housing instability and have created cutting edge programs that have been adopted by several agencies throughout the State.

What have been some of the recent challenges for your organization?  

Covid, covid, covid. Constantly making changes in staffing patterns and it’s a barrier to fundraising. Further the lack of housing affordable to the working poor has made it difficult to find housing  as well as the barriers that landlords create to screen out all but  moderate income and wealthy households. This means that those who are homeless remain homeless longer with many consequences to families with children.

How has the work of New Jersey Sews in Unity been important to your group both in the past and this winter with their donation of warming items? 

We could not do our work at the Elizabeth Coalition were it not for the community of caring people that support that work. The loving making of the masks, the warming items are two ways of letting those who have serious struggles know that there are people who care about them. We too appreciate knowing that there are others who stand behind us. 

What else would you like our readers to know?  

Stone soup. Everyone can do something. No one of us will solve the housing problems or homelessness, but together we can make a difference. Collections, making items like the masks, making sandwiches, sharing that you know of a place to rent, advocating for affordable housing in your town, mentoring homeless youth all work together to address the immediate problem and make long term changes so that no one is homeless. 

NJ Sews in Unity is proof positive that it takes effort, talent, dedication and kindness to make a positive change for people in a community. We are proud to report on their most recent efforts.

For more information on Elizabeth Coalition to House the Homeless, please visit: https://theelizabethcoalition.org/ and follow them on Facebook @ElizabethCoalition.  

Top photo: Bigstock

About Marina P. Kennedy (78 Articles)
Marina Kennedy began her writing career when her four children were grown and she returned to college to study in the humanities. She is delighted to be a contributor for Woman Around Town. The majority of her articles focus on the culinary scene, theatre, and travel. Marina and her husband Chuck enjoy the rich cultural experiences of the New York metro area and beyond. She hopes that readers like reading her articles as much as she enjoys writing them.