Ministry is a handmade success - Catholic Courier
Vera Smith (right) shares a laugh with Barbara Irving during a meeting of The Handiwork Ministry at Avon's St. Agnes Church in August 2008. Vera Smith (right) shares a laugh with Barbara Irving during a meeting of The Handiwork Ministry at Avon's St. Agnes Church in August 2008.

Ministry is a handmade success

A mention in a newsletter from Lion Brand Yarn Co. has helped a local craft ministry attract an international following.

The Handiwork Ministry was highlighted in the charity spotlight of the yarn company’s weekly e-mailed newsletter, which has more than 1 million subscribers.

"In eight days, we had 350 e-mails," said Julie Flanagan, coordinator of The Handiwork Ministry.

Since then, the Livingston County-based ministry’s growth has been exponential, attracting at-large members from as far away as South Korea, Puerto Rico, Alaska and Hawaii and spawning new meeting sites closer by in Henrietta and Rochester. Flanagan said since the mention in the newsletter, the ministry has received a steady stream of boxes containing handmade items from throughout the nation and globe.

The ministry started out as an informal group of crafters that began meeting at St. Agnes Parish in Avon a decade ago. The ministry now has added meeting sites at Holy Family, Dansville; Monroe Community Hospital in Rochester; and Episcopal SeniorLife Communities at Brentland Woods in Henrietta. The ministry also is developing a site in Cohocton, Steuben County.

Members, who craft at home or at meetings using donated supplies, make a range of items including shawls, afghans, quilts, slippers, hats, mittens, totes, mastectomy pillows, walker bags and hot/cold packs.

Recipients have included people in skilled-nursing and rehabilitation centers, assisted-living centers, treatment and support programs for people living with cancer, maternity departments, pregnancy and parenting support groups, children and family-support agencies, domestic-violence programs, U.S. military troops and pet-adoption programs.

"We are always open to new members and open to learning about new needs in the community," Flanagan said. "If I had to use one word to explain The Handiwork Ministry, it’s about relationships — with members and with the people we serve."

That open-ended mission may be the reason why Lion Brand Yarn Co. newsletter readers responded so well, Flanagan said.

"They were making comments about how unique we were and how much they appreciated how inclusive we are and how broad-based we are in trying to identify needs and respond to them," Flanagan said.

The ministry does not solicit monetary donations — members instead seek donations of cotton or synthetic yarn, cotton or cotton-blend fabric, cord for stringing bags and needlework equipment including knitting needles, crochet hooks, scissors and plastic totes. The ministry also uses plastic food-storage bags, clear recycling bags and wide cellophane tape for packaging. Postage stamps, copy paper, 6-by-9-inch envelopes, permanent markers and labels also are used. Items may be left at meeting sites, or people can call or e-mail for other arrangements.

The ministry now has a staff of volunteers in charge of everything from procuring donations to cataloguing patterns. Volunteers also speak to community groups and teach basic skills to Scout or 4-H groups.

"We have tried to share the load so that no one person is getting bogged down with too much to do," Flanagan said.

One of ministry volunteer is Katy Heneghan of Rochester, who joined the group as a way to improve her crocheting skills.

"They were more than willing to open their arms, help me out and give me free yarn," Heneghan said.

Heneghan recently began coordinating the meeting site at Monroe Community Hospital. She said she hopes to attract crafters of all skill levels and noncrafters who can help pack projects and sort and deliver items. Although the group has Catholic roots, Heneghan, who attends several Catholic parishes, noted all are welcome to join.

"The only qualification is you have to be willing to help somebody else," she said.

That’s one of the reasons why at-large member Kathy Klinger, an oncology nurse from Clay, Onondaga County, got involved. She has knitted and crocheted afghans and prayer quilts for years on her own, but now the ministry is able to help her get her projects into people’s hands.

"I’m thankful that there are other people who have started something like that," said Klinger, who has sent a box of afghans and mittens to the ministry.

Delivery is one of Lynda Hally’s favorite parts of The Handiwork Ministry. Hally, a parishioner of St. Agnes in Avon, said she has crafted everything from baby blankets to prayer shawls during her 10 years with the ministry, but she also enjoys volunteering to do deliveries.

"That’s always pleasant to take something where they are really excited to receive it," Hally said.

Flanagan said members are planning a 10-year anniversary celebration in April and also are crafting a plan for future growth. Volunteers are writing a guidebook that will be used to help establish additional meeting sites. Flanagan said one dream for the ministry would be to have its materials located all under one roof instead of scattered in members’ homes.

For now, though, members say they will continue to help others one project at a time.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Details about The Handiwork Ministry are available at or by e-mailing or calling 585-300-6289.

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