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Saint Therese residents give back to kids at Gillette

Joe Ruff | December 11, 2019

The activities calendar at Saint Therese of Woodbury can make your head spin.

There’s bingo, movie night, stretch and flex, knitting club, Mass, manicures, pet therapy, coloring, Bible study, sundaes on Sunday, and dozens of additional offerings for residents of long-term, transitional and memory care communities as well as independent and assisted living neighborhoods.

One special activity has a growing following: Kuddles for Kids.

Inspired by the Saint Therese community mission — do ordinary things with extraordinary love — residents throughout the Christmas season make fleece blankets for children at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul.

“When I came into my role as a community life director here, one of the first things I did was to see what was missing… what did residents want that we didn’t offer?” said Katie Leonard.

“[Residents] wanted a purpose. A reason to give back.”

Katie Leonard, director of community life

Patients at Gillette need comfort just as much as medical treatment. Having something warm and cuddly to snuggle with can make their hospital stay more pleasant and comfortable.

“When I discovered this need, I thought making fleece blankets was a good idea,” Leonard said. “It’s simple and easy to tie. And our residents love the fact that they are making something that will be given to kids at Gillette.”

Senior residents, Mary McAlpine and Audrey Betz of Saint Therese of Woodbury, making a blanket to be given to kids - patients at Gillette Children’s Hospital.
Mary McAlpine, left, and Audrey Betz of Saint Therese of Woodbury tie one of more than 50 blankets to be given to patients at Gillette Children’s Hospital in St. Paul. They are among about 20 residents of the senior community
working on the Christmas project. | Nov. 14, 2019

Kuddles for Kids began last year, and about a dozen Saint Therese of Woodbury residents prepared and donated 50 tie-fleece blankets to Gillette. Leonard said they’ll easily surpass that number this year as the project draws about 20 participants from throughout the campus.

“A majority of the fleece fabric donations come in from our residents,” Leonard said. “They’ll go to JoAnn (Fabrics) with all the measurements when it’s 80 percent off, come in and rock-out 10 blankets.”

For Mary Paulson, 73, Kuddles for Kids has special meaning.

“I had polio in 1946 and was in and out of Gillette for surgeries until age 18,” Paulson said. “Having been there and done that as a kid, it’s important that children know people care.”

Mary Paulson, Saint Therese resident

Gillette has special size requirements for the blankets and strict washing instructions prior to delivery.

“We have five volunteers who’ll take the blankets and wash them for us; they’re very serious about it,” Leonard said. “One told me, ‘My hands hurt so I can’t do the tying but I can wash them.’”

There’s another important benefit from Kuddles for Kids: the camaraderie of the residents uniting each week to undertake the blanket tying.

“There’s a lot of conversation while we’re working, and everyone is so satisfied to be doing something so worthwhile,” said Gretchen Helkamp, 84. “And it’s fun seeing all the cute fleece fabrics with all the fun patterns like Star Wars and geese and knowing how much the young people are going to enjoy these blankets,” she said.

Leonard plans to take interested Saint Therese residents to Gillette to drop- off the blankets on Dec. 20.

“Kuddles for Kids has been a fantastic project,” Leonard said. “It’s a great way for our residents to come together and give back.”