USC student starts knitting a nonprofit that keeps premature babies warm

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When Kathryn Huang tried her hand at knitting for the first time, she admits it didn’t quite go according to plan. But it would also be hard to call it a “mistake”.

What started with a few hats that were too small for the average child’s head led to the creation of Madhatter Knits, a nonprofit that operates in several states and several other countries whose mission is to make hats for premature babies in the neonatal intensive care unit to knit and crochet.

“It’s a little overwhelming how many hats we have now,” said Huang. “But just knowing that someone is grateful for what we do makes us happy.”

Huang originally learned to knit from her cousin Tiffany Chang after Chang began teaching family members to make hats that Huang said would “fit perfectly on dolls”. Huang’s sister, Christie, was volunteering at the San Gabriel Medical Center at the time. After visiting the neonatal intensive care unit, Christie found that they could use hats for “premature babies.” The sisters challenged each other to see how many they could make before the year was over. For Christmas 2014, they brought 160 hats to the NICU at Los Angeles Children’s Hospital. From there, Madhatter Knits was born.

When Huang, a civil engineer major, started at USC in 2018, she brought Madhatter Knits with her.

“Although there were knitting clubs at USC, they weren’t designed to help premature babies,” Huang said. “I thought I would continue the Madhatter Knits influence here.”

Whether you’re a knitting fanatic or just want to give something back, the USC Student Club welcomes you

The organization started with just a handful of people knitting what they could, but has grown to around 20 members. Although Huang said some students attend because they have an interest in knitting or crocheting, others are simply joining from the philanthropic element, like current Vice President Veronika Zilajeva.

“I didn’t really like knitting or anything like that, so I didn’t really pay any attention to the club at the beginning,” says Zilajeva with a laugh. “But then as [Huang] Talking about the effects it’s making in the hospitals, I said I would try and I really enjoyed it. “

The new senior has been with Madhatter Knits since joining USC in 2018 and has helped the club become an officially recognized organization on campus. Although Zilajeva entered and stayed without ever properly knitting, the quarantine changed her attitude.

I’ve always seen knitwear and crochet as one of the ultimate tokens of “thank you” or appreciation.

Divya Jeyasingh

“It was definitely not a very quiet and peaceful time,” said Zilajeva. “Having a hobby that works not only for other people but also for you has, I believe, partially helped me to get through these semesters.”

For other members like Divya Jeyasingh, crocheting has been a hobby for most of their lives, which she admits is probably not typical.

“All my classmates would call me ‘Grandma’,” she said with a laugh. “I would make fun of that bad and I just didn’t care.”

Jeyasingh was already working on a full blanket in her spare time when she heard about Madhatter Knits. The fourth-year student arrived in the middle of quarantine earlier this year after deciding to use her crochet skills and enthusiasm for a good cause.

“I’ve always seen knitwear and crochet as one of the ultimate tokens of ‘thank you’ or appreciation because you know someone has handmade something,” said Jeyasingh. “It’s just a really nice way to show someone who is important to you.”

Pandemic offers the opportunity to produce “maternity leave care sets”

Huang said that although the number of hats varies each season, they try to send them out four times a year, usually with a seasonal or holiday theme. Surprisingly, Huang said the pandemic didn’t actually slow production, but rather created an incentive to make hats available to an overlooked and vulnerable population. During the pandemic, the group saw another need they could meet for their target audience.

They began to make “maternity care kits” with masks, disinfectants and gloves. But then Huang decided to use this civil engineering knowledge to create handcrafted face shields for premature babies.

“Making face shields is very different from knitting hats,” Huang said with a laugh. “There is a lot more preoccupation with very different materials.”

Huang admits the project was short-lived as the CDC adjusted its guidelines on COVID precautions. She said they would continue to provide face shields to mothers who specifically asked, but the group itself returned to their roots with knitted and crocheted hats.

Madhatter Knits has since partnered with an organization called Compassionate Colorado to donate hats to children in the Navajo nation.

“They really need more material and more resources, and we’re happy to provide them,” said Huang.

Knitting Nonprofit Crew is looking forward to seeing you again in person

With social distancing and precautionary measures, the group was unable to interact with the mothers they serve or even with each other. The only constant during the pandemic was the work itself. Starting this semester, it can be done personally again, for which Huang, Zilajeva and Jeyasingh are all grateful.

“Let’s have the knitting parties; Let’s have the crochet parties, ”Jeyasingh joked. “I’m just happy to finally be in person and meet many of the virtual faces.”

For some members, the work was an outlet. Others have acquired a new skill and hobby. Aside from what it means to the members, it was a real difference maker for the mothers and children in the neonatal intensive care unit.

“I honestly don’t think I need to see people’s faces; I know that they appreciate that and that is enough, ”said Zilajeva. “You don’t need to thank me or anything because I’m not doing it for it. It’s just a beautiful thing. “

More stories about: Community Health, Community Outreach


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