In Vermont, Handmade Blankets Welcome Refugees, Immigrants

05 April 2023

An effort called the Welcome Blanket project aims to help refugees by giving them hand-made blankets. The project has grown over the years. Recently, Welcome Blanket showed at least 86 blankets at the Heritage Mill Museum in Winooski, Vermont.

The blankets were made by people who sewed, crocheted and knitted them. The person who made the blanket then attaches a handwritten note. The blankets were then given to refugees.

The national group describes its efforts as an artistic action that supports refugees settling in the United States.

Aisha Bitini holds a handmade blanket she selected at a Welcome Blanket giveaway at the Association of Africans Living in Vermont on March 21, 2023, in Burlington, Vt. The blankets were to welcome refugees to the community. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)
Aisha Bitini holds a handmade blanket she selected at a Welcome Blanket giveaway at the Association of Africans Living in Vermont on March 21, 2023, in Burlington, Vt. The blankets were to welcome refugees to the community. (AP Photo/Lisa Rathke)

Jayna Zweiman is an activist based in Los Angeles. She started Welcome Blanket in 2017 in opposition to former President Donald Trump's support for a wall at the U.S. border with Mexico.

She is a grandchild of refugees and grew up hearing stories about her grandfather seeing the Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor. She said it made him feel welcome.

She wanted people coming to this country now to have the same feeling that her grandfather had as well as so many other immigrants. She wanted a way to help them.

Since that time thousands of blankets and notes have been made for shows across the country. After the blankets are displayed, they are given away in welcome boxes to refugees and immigrants at the event or through local charity groups.

The project started to help refugees who were forced to leave their countries because of war, persecution or a natural disaster. The blankets have also gone to immigrants.

Aisha Bitini came to the U.S. from Congo in Africa. She is now living in the state of Vermont. She said that she loves the blanket she chose, a soft crocheted one with gold, dark red, white and gray colors. She picked it out at a blanket giveaway at the Association of Africans Living in Vermont.

"I'm so blessed to have one of them," she said. "This beautiful blanket" and the note that came with it made her "feel so special."

Kalyan Adhikari is from Nepal. He said the Vermont project makes refugees feel welcomed and more at home.

He said that the project is "such a kind and warm initiative. This makes my heart warm. I can't thank them enough," he said about the blanket makers.

Hollie Shaner-McRae is from Burlington, Vermont. She made one of the blankets being shown in March at the Heritage Hill Museum. The blanket is purple with white and gray stripes. On a note she placed on her blanket, she wrote about her great-grandparents coming to America from Ukraine, Russia, and Poland.

Her note said, "Welcome to the USA." One of her great-grandfathers made clothing by hand, and the other made large wooden containers. "Both were so brave and came to America as teenagers," she wrote in the note.

"I hope you make friends and feel safe here. Vermont is blessed to have new families arrive and enrich our world," she continued in her note.

Sonia Savoulian lives in Los Angeles in the state of California. She is an immigrant herself and makes things with yarn. She started making blankets in 2018. Since then, she has made about 50 blankets.

Savoulian said that the Welcome Blanket project is both a creative activity for the people who make them; and it is a product that helps people new to the US, "feel an embrace, a welcome and an aspiration," she said.

Jayna Zweiman hopes that blanket-making will become a tradition in the US.

"I want this happening 50 years from now," she said. "And I want a kid who took part in remember that he had actually physically made something for someone who was coming."

I'm Faith Pirlo.

Lisa Rathke wrote this story for The Associated Press. Faith Pirlo adapted this story for Learning English.


Words in This Story

blanket n. a covering that is used to keep you warm

sew – v. to use a needle and thread to make or repair clothes or cloth object

crochet – n. a method of making cloth or clothing by using a needle with a hook at the end to form and weave loops in a thread

knit v. to make (a piece of clothing) from yarn or thread by using long needles or a special machine

charity n. an organization that helps people who are poor, sick, or otherwise in need

persecution – n. the treatment of someone unfairly or cruelly because of their race, religion, or beliefs

blessed – adj. having a sacred nature; connected with God; very welcome, pleasant, or appreciated

initiative – n. a plan or project, usually involving many people or groups, to accomplish or achieve some result

yarn n. thread used for knitting, weaving, or sewing

embrace – v. to hold in the arms

aspiration – n. a hope or goal for the future