By Tammi DeVille
How much does Ruth Volk love to crochet? Let's just say that even after her family and friends gently asked her to stop giving them her handmade gifts, she just couldn't put her needles down.
Knitting and crocheting just felt right for the Eagan, Minn., resident, and she treasured the creative outlet. She honored the request by hiding her doilies, mittens, hats, and blankets in a drawer. But she certainly missed the joy of giving the gifts she'd poured her heart into.
One day, catching an Oprah episode about volunteering, Volk learned about VolunteerMatch and immediately logged in. A search for “crocheting, knitting, or sewing” in her ZIP code came up with Bundles of Love, an organization that sews blankets and baby items for babies born into poverty. She contacted them immediately.
Ten years – and countless doilies later –Volk serves as regional coordinator for Bundles of Love, and she has moved far beyond her own needlework to now being responsible for recruiting and managing dozens of other committed volunteers.
Bundles of Love was started by Mary Jo Prinsen in 1999, and today is entirely run by volunteers. In 2008, some 45 hospitals and healthcare clinics worked with Bundles fo Love to help supply close to 6,000 families with handmade items for infants of low-income mothers and special-needs babies, right-sized preemie clothing, and burial gowns for infants.
“I felt so lucky to have everything I need,” recalls Volk. “After having four kids, I really realized that, and I wanted to make a difference for those that aren't so lucky.”
Of the 200 people on Volk’s area distribution list, sixty to eighty participate per month. Volk, who called herself a “homebody,” does much of her volunteer coordination by email or phone, right from home, where she also does most of her crocheting and sewing. She's able to spend time with her family while watching TV and crocheting or cutting patterns.
Bundles of Love works closely with many companies to engage employees in knitting activities. One of Volks’ consulting clients, for example, is a big health insurer that underwrites volunteering time from employees each month and even allows them to bring their volunteer work to the office.
While working with one department in the company, Volk says she saw a marked transformation as the historically contentious team began to focus on their impact rather than their differences. She says the department now holds monthly volunteer work meetings.
Seeing the camaraderie among co-workers is as rewarding to witness as the outcomes of the volunteer work itself, she says.
As for her own sewing, in addition to making standard items for babies born with nothing, Volks creates custom items for preemies or babies with special needs. Once she received a special request from a hospital where a baby was born with short, stiff arms. Volk customized a design for an open-front gown that was easy for the preemie baby to get in and out of. Later, in a rare occurrence, she had the opportunity to meet the baby and his mom at the hospital (Bundles of Love volunteers don’t normally get to see the recipients of their work). Needless to say, the mother was very grateful.
Says Volk, instances like these are a reminder of how important it was for her to take that first step to look outside of herself to see who else could benefit from her gifts.
About the Author
Tammi Lynn DeVille is the author of Changing The World on a Tuesday Night, which features profiles of 50 people from around the country who work full-time jobs or have otherwise busy lives, but find time to volunteer for a cause that they are passionate about. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/tammideville.