On a cold Thursday afternoon, a group gathers around a table in room 338 of Founders Memorial Library. They’re in the NIU Digital Convergence Lab, but they’re not here today to explore new media technology. Instead, their hands filled with colorful yarn, these knitters and crocheters are using their lunch hour to give back to the NIU community through some of the world’s oldest technologies.
The Giving Project at NIU is a group open to all who knit or crochet or who would like to learn. They gather every other Thursday to make items that are then given to NIU students through the Huskie Food Pantry.
“All of us like having the opportunity to give something back to students,” says Stephanie Richter, the director of faculty development and instructional support for the NIU Faculty Development and Instructional Design Center and one of the group’s regular members.
Stephanie’s mother, Sara Richter, is a staff member at the NIU libraries and another Giving Project regular. “The original group started because the operating staff sponsored ‘how to knit’ and ‘how to crochet’ workshops,” she says. “Well, after they learned, they wondered, ‘Well, now what do we do?’ So they started meeting so they could make things together. We’ve had people bring and make things for themselves, bring and make things for others. If you get stuck on a pattern, people are here to help.”
Aline Click is the current coordinator of the Giving Project. Click says that when the previous coordinator, Barbara Andree, retired she asked if anyone was interested in taking over the job. “I hadn’t been attending for long, but I saw the value of a group like this, and I had the space to host the project in the Digital Convergence Lab (DCL) that I manage,” Click says.
“The DCL is also a place where stuff is made, and we are hoping to bring additional Maker projects to the lab in the future,” she continues. “That’s also why we entered the Giving Project in the STEM Fest Maker Faire. I didn’t know what to expect at the Faire, but we ended up having dozens of Girl Scouts come up to our table to learn how to crochet.”
Becky Griffith, another member of the group, is new to crochet. “I was hired about two months ago here in the Digital Convergence Lab, so I just started learning then,” she says. On that cold Thursday afternoon Griffith is working on a colorful dishcloth while others are making baby blankets, scarves or warm winter hats.
According to Stephanie Richter, the group originally upcycled by making sleeping mats for people who were homeless, using ‘plarn,’ plastic yarn made by cutting up used plastic bags. The group soon learned that local shelters could accommodate people in the area, so the need for mats diminished.
“So we sort of morphed into making things that would be of benefit to students, like scarves and hats in the cold months,” says Richter. “For a while, a couple of people made reusable bags that could be given out at the food pantry so students could take their groceries home and bring them back again. Once we hit the warmer months, we started making dish cloths, wash cloths and baby blankets because many students have children.”
“We hear from the food pantry that students love everything that’s given, and they want more,” Richter says.
In fact, the group says their biggest challenge is making enough items to provide a steady supply to the Huskie Food Pantry. Many members who cannot meet during lunch do stop in to drop off items that they made at home. The group is eager to welcome new people, beginning and experienced makers alike, and is open to community members as well as NIU faculty, staff, students, alumni and retirees. The group also accepts donations of yarn or hand-made items to pass on to the Huskie Food Pantry.
The Giving Project meets every other Thursday from noon to 1 p.m. in Founders Memorial Library room 338, including Dec. 13, 2018. To find meeting dates, visit calendar.niu.edu or contact Aline Click at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find more information at https://www.niu.edu/osc/giving-project.shtml.