Crochet ladies’ ministry a labor of love

Members of the Angel Hugs Ministry of First Freewill Baptist Church, in Huntington, hold up crocheted items they have created to donate to cancer patients. Pictured are (from left) Deb Spencer, Dawn Mitcham and Brenda Paynter. The group seeks referrals of those they can provide with their handiwork.
Members of the Angel Hugs Ministry of First Freewill Baptist Church, in Huntington, hold up crocheted items they have created to donate to cancer patients. Pictured are (from left) Deb Spencer, Dawn Mitcham and Brenda Paynter. The group seeks referrals of those they can provide with their handiwork. Photo by Rebecca Sandlin.

A group of ladies at First Freewill Baptist Church get a big kick out of being called “hookers for the Lord.” But, indeed, with hooks in hand – crochet hooks, that is – the women of Angel Hugs Ministry have created hundreds of handmade items to bless those who are battling cancer and other serious ailments.

The group, which started with Deb Spencer in October of 2009, has met every Monday evening for a couple of hours to work on making colorful prayer shawls, afghans, lapghans, baby blankets and chemo hats, with every item becoming a donation to someone with a need.

There are crocheters of all levels in the group. Spencer has been crocheting nearly 40 years. Her daughter, Dawn Mitcham, has only been crocheting about a year, building up her skills with each new item she creates.

“After all these years, my mom tried to teach me. I have seven kids, so I never really had the time to learn,” Mitcham explains. “Now that I’m a grandma, I have time to crochet. My kids are all grown, so I finally learned.”

Another member, Brenda Paynter, started hooking yarn when she was 10, taught by her grandmother in Kentucky. She estimates she has crocheted 90 blankets alone for the Angel Hugs Ministry.

Collectively, no one knows exactly how many items they have made and donated, primarily to people suffering from cancer. Each is a unique work of art, comprised of styles including half granny square, triangular shawl, lacey reader and shell stitches. The stitches become blankets with interesting names such as butterfly, dragonfly, veterinarian and midwife patterns in the items they make. Spencer says the latter is inspired by the TV show “Call the Midwife” and features cross-shaped cutouts in the blanket.

When finished, they make sure to bless the objects in a special ceremony.

“What we do is we take them up to the front on the altar and they are anointed with oil, hands are laid on them and prayed over before the people get anything,” Spencer says. “Then we give it to whoever is in need.”

At first, the Angel Hugs ladies donated the items to those in their own church who had cancer, a serious illness or were facing surgery, or just needed a special blessing. However, they are also seeking referrals of those from the community who could use an item. Spencer has sent about 100 chemo hats, which she adorns with a colorful scarf, to the oncology unit at Parkview Regional Medical Center. Many of the patients have been referred by people via Facebook.

The anointed items have been given to local recipients and even sent out of state, packed with New Testament Bibles or Christian-themed coloring books and crayons, depending on the age of the recipient.

“One was a little boy that was born 10 weeks too early and is on a ventilator,” Paynter recounts. “We sent him a blanket.”

The group’s members also get ideas from Facebook, YouTube and other Internet crochet groups to which they belong, says Spencer.

“I want to learn how to make the little baby octopuses,” she says. “You don’t put any eyes or faces on them; you just crochet and stuff with fiberfill. …

“The babies that are in NICU use these. Instead of grabbing their tubes and stuff, they’ll grab a hold of that tentacle from the octopus and that gives them something to hold onto, rather than pulling their tubes. It’s kind of a security for them.”

Paynter estimates that the prayer shawls alone cost between $20 and $30 to make. Monetary support for Angel Hugs Ministry comes from the members themselves, paying club dues of $2 each time they come to a meeting; if necessary, they buy their own yarn. However, they gratefully accept donations, including yarn, to continue their work.

“We look for sales,” Spencer adds. “We’ve got a couple of people who go to garage sales, and they find it and bring it to us and donate it.”
New members to the group are always welcome, no matter what their skill level – the experienced crocheters will teach the art to anyone who wants to learn. They meet at 5:30 p.m. on Mondays at the church, located at 1805 Salamonie Ave., in Huntington.

The ladies in Angel Hugs Ministry see it as a labor of love, but they have also had cancer touch their lives as well, with some members of the group battling the disease or caring for family members who are ill or who have died. They hope the blankets, hats, shawls and other things they create will minister to others, much like anointed cloths that were sent to the sick in the New Testament (Acts 19:11-12).

“We love to be helpful, and we love to try to minister to those who are in need, or those who may not even know the word of God or the love of a Christian,” Mitcham says. “That’s why we do it. That’s why I do it.”

“And God has blessed us with these gifts and we should use them to bless God,” adds Paynter.

For more information contact Deb Spencer at 359-9161 or Brenda Paynter at 249-7517.