Volunteer Knitters Bring Comfort to Patients


A special group of women are bringing comfort to patients at Palomar Medical Center Poway and Escondido. Two individual groups meet weekly to knit, crochet, sew, and otherwise create handmade custom items for babies and other patients. They do it all on their own time and all of their creations are given to patients free of charge with the exception of some baby blankets that are available for sale in the Palomar Medical Center Poway gift shop.

The “Needle Work Group” meets every Tuesday at 1:30 in Palomar Medical Center Poway to make baby caps, baby blankets, hand puppets, dolls, stuffed animals and busy blankets. The baby caps are given to each new born baby. The other comfort items are given to patients of all ages who are suffering from anxiety or just need something to keep their minds active.

Jane Radatz, the group’s coordinator, has been volunteering in the group for the past 23 years, which has been meeting since the hospital opened in 1977.

“I love the work, I love the volunteers and we feel like we’re making a small but real difference,” Radatz said.

On this day seven regular volunteers are present and two new people showed up who said they learned about the group on the smartphone app, Nextdoor. The volunteers said participating in the Needle Work Group is a great way to make friends, do something they love and help their community. All the women are from Rancho Bernardo or Poway.

Some of the volunteers spend many hours each week at home handcrafting and customizing comfort items requested by units within the hospital. Volunteer Anita Zublin says she spends about 20 hours per week sewing busy blankets at home. Each comfort item is unique and fits a need. For example, hand puppets with buttons are not allowed to be given to small children in the Emergency Department so faces are painted instead of sewn.

Geriatric patients may receive busy blankets with laces instead of zippers to help with motor skills.

Radatz purchases the fabric, buttons, zippers, etc. as needed and is reimbursed by Palomar Health Volunteer Services. Each week members of the Needle Work Group touch base with staff in hospital units to find out what needs to be replenished.

Birth Center Volunteer Coordinator Gerry Brinsfield has the honor of hand delivering caps to each baby. One day Brinsfield says she gave a baby cap to a new mom who started crying. Brinsfield said she told the mom, “Please don’t cry; you don’t have to accept it.” The mom responded, “No, you don’t understand. Nobody in my family is crafty and this is the only handmade gift this baby will ever get.”

Needle Work Group volunteers Cheryl Pappadackis and Nga (Isabella) Huynh said one day they delivered a doll to a geriatric patient at Villa Pomerado.

“She cradled the doll against her body and said, ‘Oh I love this,’” Pappadackis said.

The patient said she wanted to give the doll a name and asked for Cheryl and Isabella’s names. She ended up naming the doll something like Cherylbella.

The Escondido group has been meeting for as long as anyone can remember at the Rancho Escondido Mobile Home Park every Thursday from 1-3 p.m. They call themselves “Stitch and Chat” because that’s what they do. The ladies take turns bringing treats and work on a variety of projects while helping each other learn new skills. They knit and crochet caps and blankets to be given to babies born at Palomar Medical Center Escondido.

For years the Stitch and Chat group has been buying the materials out of their own pocket, finding yarn at garage sales and otherwise being resourceful. Recently Palomar Health’s Volunteer Services gave the group $500 worth of gift certificates and hopes to continue supporting the group with materials in the future.

The group’s liaison with the hospital, Anita Phillips, says when she moved into Rancho Escondido seven years ago she was going to turn down the opportunity to join Stitch and Chat because she had made so many knitted products in the past, but when she found out the group made caps for babies she said, “I’m in.”

“I love babies,” Phillips said. “It makes you feel like you’re doing something.”

Evelyn Englander has been a member of the group for 20 years, Jewell Nagel for 10, and Rheta Thompson and Mieke Bauer are more recent members. They all expressed their love for helping babies.

Providing caps for babies can be a commitment as upward of 200 babies are born each month in Escondido and 50 plus in Poway. There’s always room for more working hands so if you’d like to join either group, please contact Palomar Health’s Director of Volunteer Services Margaret Mertens.

Photo caption: The Needle Work group in Poway and Stitch and Chat group in Escondido meet every week to create baby caps and blankets for newborns at Palomar Medical Center Poway and Escondido.

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