MANCHESTER, NH – Bette Derocher is wrangling a colorful wad of yarn with four knitting needles at once, without looking, as she artfully crafts mitten cuffs for the umpteenth pair of gloves she’s cranked out since the summer.
She is part of a crochet circle that convenes Fridays at the William B. Cashin Senior Center on the city’s West Side, a lively group of ladies with varying degrees of experience in the yarn arts.
Informally, they call themselves The Hookers, which is always good for a chuckle. But their mission is no laughing matter: They provide warm hats, scarves and gloves for a faction of city school kids – many of them homeless – who would otherwise have none.
This is the second year that the group has answered the call put out by Alderman Bill Barry, who learned of the great need within city schools from Jocelyne Pinsonneault, the school district’s liaison for homeless students and their families.
“I met with [senior services director] Gail Senno last year and we coordinated to have the seniors make the hats, mittens and scarves. They have worked very hard to continue this,” said Barry, who says he hopes the effort will become an annual tradition.
Barry picked up this year’s bounty of knitted goods last week and delivered the bags just before the Christmas break to Pinsonneault. She was prepared to match the items to kids in need, ages kindergarten through sixth grade – although the ladies also toss in some smaller and larger items that will go to family members, as well.
The goal was to make sure everyone got what they needed before school vacation, when kids are likely to spend more time outdoors playing.
“Unfortunately there are many children who are in need of warm clothing during the winter months,” said Barry.
On a recent Friday DeRocher was joined by Sue Cashin, Esther Cashin and Emily Conrad, a senior specialist at the Cashin center, who coordinated the group over the summer. They were just about finished this year’s quota, with about a week to go before delivery day. Although they don’t keep count, they are sure they’ve easily made hundreds of items between them.
“Members come and go – usually we have a few more ladies here, like Barbara Zammato and Sarah Darling,” DeRocher said.
Esther Cashin said her personal goal is to knit 50 items a year.
The Hookers have also knitted and crocheted scarves and woolen helmet liners for those serving in the military.
“Any organization in need, we’re ready, just let us know,” said Sue Cashin. “We’re happy to accommodate them. This is what we do, year round.”
Donating their time and talent to the cause is one small way the ladies give back to the community, but as it turns out, warm fuzzies go both ways.
“It makes you feel useful to do this,” says Sue Cashin. “Especially for those who are alone a lot. You can accomplish something while you’re watching TV, for a good cause.”