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Blankets for the children

Lynne Olien knows firsthand the importance of a blanket to a sick child. Her terminally ill son Nathan lost his blanket during a 2001 stay in a St. Paul hospital.

Lynne Olien knows firsthand the importance of a blanket to a sick child.

Her terminally ill son Nathan lost his blanket during a 2001 stay in a St. Paul hospital. The 5-year-old was distraught.

"I was pretty distraught, too," recalled Olien, who lives in West Fargo.

Fortunately, the hospital had a spare blanket for Nathan.

Now, nearly four years after Nathan died of Batten Disease, a rare neurological disorder, Olien has launched a local chapter of Project Linus to ensure other children receive blankets in their time of need.


"He was in the hospital for three months of his last year, and you see all the kids in the hospital that are scared and traumatized," she said. "You wouldn't think a blanket would make such a difference, but it really does. It gives them something to hold on to."

Project Linus - a reference to the blanket-toting Peanuts cartoon character - is a nonprofit, all-volunteer organization with more than 300 chapters providing handmade blankets to seriously ill and traumatized children.

Since it began in 1995, the Bloomington, Ill.-based organization has delivered more than 1 million blankets, including more than 24,000 to children affected by hurricanes this year.

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The Fargo-Moorhead-West Fargo chapter of Project Linus is the first in eastern North Dakota and the second chapter in the state.

Wanda Swenson and her daughter Paula started the state's first chapter in Williston, N.D., in 2001. Since then, they have donated roughly 200 blankets to hospitals, Ronald McDonald houses, foster children, funeral homes and by individual request.

But the blankets rarely make it as far east as the Red River Valley, Wanda Swenson said.

"It'll be nice if somebody's going to start on in Fargo," she said.


Project Linus volunteers aren't paid for the work, and they don't know who will receive the blankets. People make the blankets out of the goodness of their hearts, Swenson said.

"It's just the gratification of knowing it hopefully gives some child that extra little hug they need in their time of distress," Swenson said.

Olien is currently recruiting "blanketeers" to make new, handmade, washable blankets and afghans. Project Linus accepts knit, crocheted, quilted, fleece and flannel blankets in child-friendly colors. Donations of new fabric, yarn, quilt batting and money also are welcome.

Initially, the blankets will be given to the YWCA, Ronald McDonald House and Innovis Hospital in Fargo, Olien said. Blow's Sew and Vac in the Village West Shopping Center has agreed to be a blanket drop-off site.

For more information, or to volunteer or make a donation, contact Olien at (701) 277-5790 or Lynne-PL@hotmail.com . Swenson can be reached at (701) 859-5318 or realtors@rwswenson.com .

The Project Linus Web site - www.projectlinus.org - also contains letters from blanket recipients.

"It's incredible when you read about the looks on the kids faces, how happy they are to have something to hold on to and snuggle," Olien said.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Mike Nowatzki at (701) 241-5528

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