Blanketing the Valley in Care

West Valley students donate handmade blankets to Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s Brendan House

By Tristan Scott

The pace of Erin Grieco’s fifth-grade class isn’t always so frenetic, but when there are 60 blankets to make before the holidays, her students don’t waste any time.

Their enthusiasm was on full display on a recent afternoon in Grieco’s classroom at West Valley School in Kalispell, where the scene involved a whirling dervish of 20 students, working in unison to frantically assemble the fleece blankets.

Divided into two groups, the students raced one another as they tried to become the first group to complete a blanket and tally their scores on the whiteboard.

When a blanket was complete, the winning group would hold it high by its fringe and wave it in the air.

But don’t let the students’ competitive energies detract from the altruistic nature of the blanket project.

When West Valley School’s 57 fifth-graders complete the project on Dec. 18, they’ll each have a fleece blanket, but they will not keep any of the cozy coverlets for themselves.

Instead, they’ll pile into a bus and head to Kalispell Regional Healthcare’s nursing facility, the Brendan House, where the students will donate the blankets to the elderly residents who live there.

Grieco has been leading the blanket project every year for the last decade, having adopted it from another teacher who mentored her. She says the students savor the experience, counting it as a highlight of their fifth-grade experience.

“It’s kind of my baby now,” Grieco said. “We donate the blankets to different places, and this year we selected the Brendan House. The residents have no idea, and their faces just light up when we show up singing carols and handing out blankets. They’re so surprised.”

The students also each write a card to the resident that includes their name and address, “because they want to be able to thank us,” said 10-year-old Morgan Nicholson, who has done similar projects with her 4H Club.

“I just like seeing the expressions on their faces when we give them their blankets. They’re just so surprised and happy,” she said. “It really adds to their holiday season.”

“It’s about giving instead of receiving,” said Ivee Phelps, 11. “This helps the community.”

The style of blanket the students are making are no-sew, double-layer, tied fleeces, creatively constructed by layering two panels of fleece, then cutting strips along the edge and tying together the fringe.

“I thought we were going to have to stitch the blankets but we don’t,” Phelps said. “They’re really soft.”

Lucy Crowle, who moved to Montana from Australia in the third grade, still isn’t used to the cold winters, and says the cozy blankets make a big difference.

“I think it’s good because it keeps the people inside the Brendan House warm during the cold winter,” Crowle said. “These blankets are cozy. They’re soft because they’re made out of fleece and I know when I’m at home I like to have a blanket.”

With Christmas music playing in the background, the two groups are in a dead heat in the blanket competition, having each assembled four blankets.

When Group 1 pulls ahead, Group 2 hurries to dispatch its next blanket with gusto, then notices that Group 1 had forgotten to tie together the frills of the blanket’s fringe; thus, an incomplete blanket, and a point is deducted from the board.

Grieco said she intends to continue the blanket project for a long time as a way to demonstrate the joy of giving to her future students.

“It’s rewarding to see how much happiness this brings to the students and to the residents who receive the blankets,” she said.

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