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Knitting new beginnings: Volunteers aim to help the homeless

ANDERSON, S.C. (AP) — A group of people searching for friendship and community came together throughout 2019 over a passion for knitting and other yarn crafts. That passion turned into an outreach project that benefited hundreds of homeless people in the Upstate.

More than a dozen volunteers, all affiliated with I Am Not Lost in the Upstate Area, distributed more than 1,200 handmade hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and ear warmers for people in need to find throughout Anderson, Easley, Pickens, Liberty and Greenville.

I Am Not Lost is a movement where people knit warm items to help homeless people in the winter. On New Year’s Day, volunteers distribute the items, leaving them in plain sight on branches, in bushes, on fences and benches, and more.

“The reason why the nationwide thing is New Year’s is because it’s like a new year, new beginnings for a lot of people,” Joan Milazzo-Mendez, a lead organizer of the group, said. “So it’s like giving them hope that people still care about them.”

‘I was handmade for you!’

Each item has a tag attached that says: “I am not lost! I was handmade for you! If you are cold and need me, please take me!”

For the Upstate’s chapter, 2019 was the first full year in existence. With the whole year and about 90 people contributing, they were able to go from 110 items for Easley in 2019 to more than 1,200 in three counties in 2020, Milazzo-Mendez said.

The group contacted each city before hanging the items and tried to target locations where homeless people would be more likely to see the items and take them.

In Anderson, some locations were the wooded area on Station Drive, near the Health Department and the outskirts of downtown.

In Greenville, they placed the items on the Swamp Rabbit Trail.

Milazzo-Mendez, a hairstylist and artist, hosts I Am Not Lost in Joan of Art, her Easley hair salon that also serves as an art studio, coffee bar and meeting space. A recent transplant to the Upstate, Milazzo-Mendez got involved with I Am Not Lost because she wanted to meet people while giving back to the community — a common theme for many of the other members.

“I moved up here in 2008 and literally it’s just work and home, I didn’t have anything else,” Nicole Sadler, a member who crochets, said. She was in Joan of Art for a painting class, saw some of the crocheted items and started attending the group’s weekly meetings.

“We have people that would be sitting at home doing nothing,” Daphne Mackey, who loom-knits, said. “And we have people with all phases of disabilities in here too.”

They described crocheting, knitting and loom-knitting as therapeutic.

In addition to the January 1st distribution, I Am Not Lost also makes items for other local organizations and causes throughout the year like domestic violence survivors, children in need, schools and anyone else who could use their help.

“We all have a passion to help and to do for others, and God has given us the ability to do that,” Mackey said.

How to get involved

I Am Not Lost has started working on items for the 2021 distribution. They want to impact more cities, which means creating more items.

They accept yarn donations as well as people who will create items to donate — they’re willing to teach people, too. They even accept unfinished yarn projects. Someone will finish it so it can be donated.

“We don’t want people just to join to say they’re a part of the group,” Milazzo-Mendez said. “We want them to participate, whether they’re going to donate, actually crochet, knit or loom, or help us do the drop.”

The group meets every Monday at Joan of Art, located at 710 South Pendleton St. in Easley from 4:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.

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