CLAREMONT — All around the community room at Sugar River Mills, skeins of bright red, pink and blue yarns popped from the white walls and tables: the faint clack of knitting needles and the hum of an air conditioner were only barely audible over the constant chatter. The sociable group, known to the world as the Savvy Seniors, meets every Monday afternoon to knit and crochet, talk and enjoy each other’s company
But the hats and mittens that the Savvy Seniors produce during these sessions make their way around the entire region. Last year alone, the group donated more than 1,600 handmade hats to charity.
Debra Duncan and Eva LeDoux, who founded the Savvy Seniors group, started knitting items for charity together in 2010. In February of 2016, they opened the group to other residents of the complex. After 81 weekly meetings, the membership and output of the group has grown substantially. In the group’s second year, they are on pace to eclipse last year’s output — more than 2,000 hats given away, by Duncan’s estimation.
“It just keeps getting bigger over time,” Duncan said. “It’s something that everybody can do really.”
Hospitals are the usual destinations for the group's output. Duncan maintains in a binder records of every shipment to Maine General Hospital, Norris Cotton Cancer Center, Cheshire County Medical Center, the Veterans Affairs Hospital in White River Junction and other such institutions. “Thank You” cards and notes of gratitude also litter the pages.
While the charitable causes to which the group donates are an immediate draw, it’s the people involved who keep it together.
Take, for instance, one of the newer members of the group, Brigitta Proulx — who used a medium-sized circular loom for knitting at Monday’s session. Although she only learned how to knit using a loom just more than a month ago, the brown and blue hat she had been making looked expertly-made.
“I’m a seamstress, so it all comes natural to me,” Proulx said. “I do knit and crochet also, but this is a new way to knit, and it’s kind of fun.”
Boxes containing the group’s monthly donations lay nearby on a table. This week, the group will donate 15 boxes to United Way.
“It’s for such a great purpose,” Proulx said. “The reason I got involved is that the idea behind it is very beautiful, helping people.”
One of her next projects is to make one of the baby cocoon sets to swaddle a newborn — another good commonly included in the Savvy Seniors’ boxes.
“I found out my grand-daughter is about to have a baby — my great-granddaughter,” Proulx said. “I thought, I have to learn how to make these buntings now.”
Nearby, the only man in the group, John Vertone, was just beginning a circular loom-knit hat.
“I enjoy doing it, I’ve only been doing this for about six months,” Vertone said. “I come in here for a couple hours, it’s all for charity.”
Although the lateral motion of more conventional knitting is painful, Vertone said, the vertical motion of the loom makes for little difficulty. The newer models of the looms, he explained, also have hooks that make the process even easier.
Much like Proulx, Vertone brings years of experience to the group — 44 years as a tailor in Claremont, to be precise. Even when he is away from the group, he uses the loom while watching television and donates the products.
another table in the room, Ginny Burquist drew a string through the loom
to finish a hat while Linda Foucher and Joan Schwabe sat nearby.
“We’re just three grandmothers,” Schwabe said, before Foucher corrected her.
“Great-grandmothers, really,” Foucher said, eliciting a laugh from the women at the table.