By J.D. Moor

From left, Linda Stein, Carol Katz, Anne Mandel and Arlette Berlin prepare tzedakah project blankets for those undergoing chemotherapy treatments at Northside Hospital.

Armed with needle, thread, scissors and altruistic compassion, Jacqueline Granath’s Dunwoody-based chapter of 56 Peach State Stitchers last year started making fleece blankets for breast cancer patients at Northside Hospital.

“We gave 50 to the hospital, but they said they needed 50 per week,” Granath said. “We’ve received $1,500 and lots of fleece donations since then. We’ve made 150 more blankets to date, and they‘re going to men and women facing chemotherapy for breast, prostate and ovarian cancers.”

Breast cancer strikes one in eight women in the United States, with 39,000 new cases expected in 2013. But the number of survivors keeps growing and is up to almost 3 million. Chemotherapy remains one of the most popular treatments, though the process can rapidly chill the body.

When the Peach State Stitchers gather once a month, it takes about 15 minutes to make a blanket.

“We cut the fabric to size, make strips at one end and tie them into a bow. Then we sew in a personalized label that reads, ‘Strength, Courage, Faith, Hope – Sending Warm Thoughts Your Way,’ and we sign it,” Granath said.

“What takes only a few stitches of our time can make a person’s time in chemo so much more comfortable.”

Two cancer patients at Northside who were just getting their blankets said they agree.

Holly Faris, in her 20s, was so surprised to get hers. “I think mine’s beautiful. It means we’re not forgotten,” she said.

Barbara Parker, who has undergone chemo for ovarian cancer since January, thought she got the prettiest one. Her husband, Tom, said: “She’s crazy about it and thrilled that it’s made by Jewish women.”

Each stitcher sews a personalized label that reads “Strength, Courage, Faith, Hope – Sending Warm Thoughts Your Way” onto the blanket, then signs it.

Cheryl Miller is one of those women, and she can relate to how meaningful a project this is.

“In 1998, I examined myself and discovered a lump on my breast. I had a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. Five and a half years later, a new cancer was detected in the same breast. I had a double mastectomy, chemo and reconstruction,” she said.

Miller is a long-time flight attendant with American Airlines, and her treatments were in cities she’d just relocated to. “When I was going for chemo, a cousin sent me a warm and fuzzy pair of slippers. It was just so thoughtful,” she said.

She discovered the stitchers through her Temple Emanu-El in Dunwoody four years ago and she’s made six blankets so far. She considers the work to be a “tzedakah,” a commandment woven into Jewish tradition to find a need and fill it.

“It’s such a pleasure, and because it’s a tzedakah, I enjoy it even more. I know what it’s like to go into that chemo room, so our blankets are like a present when the patient least expects one,” she said.

The stitchers are part of the larger Pomegranate Guild of Judaic Needlework. They do all sorts of embroidery, knitting and sewing.

Cheryl Miller, a member of the Peachtree State Stitchers, discovered the group through Temple Emanu-El in Sandy Springs. Miller, a breast cancer survivor, appreciated a pair of warm and fuzzy slippers given by her cousin when she was going through chemotherapy.

As Peach State chapter president, Jacqueline Granath plans to continue the blanket tzedakah year-round. She welcomes any other groups that would like to join the effort, and there are some already on board for next year, including a Girl Scout troup, students at Greenfield Hebrew Academy and some select senior residential communities.

“The hardest thing is to ask for support, but if we can, our goal is to spread these blankets to 500 more patients,” she said.

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