Knitting For Peace is a community of volunteers who knit, quilt and crochet handcrafted items to give away. For 15 years, they have been making hats, blankets, mittens, dolls and scarves to give away to those in need of a lovingly created gift. In 2006, some 20 women formed the first “peace pod” to make items to give away. Over the years, K4P has grown, creating some 200,000 handcrafted items in some 130 “peace pods.” The handcrafted items are given to groups or individuals who work with the needy and those living with the stresses of domestic abuse, homelessness, addiction recovery, refugees. Many scarves, blankets, mittens and dolls head overseas, requested by American doctors who offer their own services in clinics for vision, dental work, medical and veterinary needs. They have one caveat: items must be given in person, one recipient at a time.
It was always religiously diverse, in the Abrahamic tradition of including Jewish, Christian and Muslim volunteers and has always been in service of peace and inclusion. When Black Lives Matter exploded in the national consciousness, K4P began to wonder how to support the movement toward inclusion and diversity. In the urgency of the moment, with countrywide marches during the worst of the covid pandemic, they sought a way to “be part of the solution, to create the racial justice demanded by the Black Lives Matter movement.”
But how to be part of the solution?
According to Mary Ellen Garrett, the Director of K4P, the tiny staff and their volunteers dove into learning from seminars, webinars, written articles. They had to think deeply about how “to widen the lens,” how support the urgent need to combat inequality and racism. There was also a desire to diversify their membership, to represent the wider community in all its diversity. According to Garrett, they wanted to “intentionally work toward racial and ethnic equality.” They created a diversity committee to advise them and sought to find out “Are there things we can do, steps we can take to be better allies in this work.” Then they set about using their social media platforms on facebook and twitter and on their website to get their message of inclusion out.
The Board of Directors decided upon a clear statement supporting the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement. Their statement asserted that “philanthropy must actively advance justice and equity for all people” and that non profit organizations “have a moral obligation to confront and address structural racism within our own work.”
K4P could actively address the issues, eliminate hints of white saviorism, welcome and serve anyone without exception, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, religion, LGBT status. They have received overwhelming support from the volunteers and have only lost a small number who disagreed with the need to express unconditional support for equality.
Let me be clear, the volunteers are not combating white supremacist thinking among their members. They are seeking to eliminate the hint of white saviorism in their communications and in the make-up of their peace pods. These are two astonishingly different points of view. Unlike white supremacist thinking, white saviorism can emerge from a well meaning individual who genuinely wishes to perform charitable work to help minorities and people of color. But that person would still believe that whites are superior in things like intellect and technological development.
One of the first things they did, according to Garrett, was to circulate the Board’s statement clearly expressing K4P’s openness to the aims of the Black Lives Matter movement.
They have always known that there is a way to give that respects the person receiving much needed items. For example, the Ogallala Sioux of the Lakota Sioux nation are among the most oppressed and economically needy of native American communities. K4P sets aside for them donated items created with their sacred colors, red, black, white and gold. (Gold stands for the eastern direction, where the sun rises, black represents the west, red the southern sky and white stands for the north.) In the freezing winters of South Dakota, hats, scarves, mittens and blankets not only warm hands and heads but hearts as well.
It’s not so much a change in attitude but a change in the presentation of the work that they do. Their recent social media posts stress a respect for the people they wish to help and include photos of recipients, rather than of the donors. It presents a learning opportunity for the givers to see how their actions actually are of help. So they request minimal feedback from international groups that give out their items in hopes of learning to improve their services.
Their social media outreach includes a website, Knitting4Peace.org, and a facebook page Many of their contacts occur within the faith community, so recruitment takes place on bulletin boards, through word of mouth and now through these websites. If you wish to become involved as a creator of needed handcrafted items, or if you are interested in creating a “peace pod,” or if you simply wish to learn about K4P, check them out!
(And please come back next month for K4P, part 2: Peace Pods to Peace Pals)