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MLK 'Sew-in' at Lincoln Square Food Pantry Brings Generations Together

By Patty Wetli | January 21, 2014 10:53am
 Young and old came together and teamed up on service projects at the Lincoln Square Friendship Center.
'Sew-in' Brings Generations Together
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LINCOLN SQUARE — For her first sewing lesson, 10-year-old Zoey Muniz couldn't have picked a more experienced teacher than Dolores Davis.

At age 93, Davis has been putting needle and thread to fabric since Herbert Hoover was president and now keeps busy designing clothes for American Girl dolls — a hobby that Muniz found highly intriguing.

The two generations — and a couple of more in between them — came together Monday at the Lincoln Square Friendship Center food pantry, teaming up on a pair of projects designed to celebrate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr.

Davis and her fellow Craft Circle members — a group that meets monthly at Sulzer Library — were holding the final of a series of "sew-ins" during which they created dozens of reusable cloth shopping bags to donate to the Friendship Center, 2733 W. Lawrence Ave.

Sewers like Betty Rogus created the pattern for the bags and delved in their personal fabric stashes while also collecting another 70 yards of material from neighbors.

"Having the handmade bags to give to the [food pantry] clients can give them the sense that people care about them," said Diane Schulte, 68.

The crafters were joined Monday by a troop of neighborhood Girl Scouts, who not only took a spin on the seniors' Singer machines but also converted strips of old T-shirts into chew toys for animals served by the Friendship Center's monthly pet food pantry.

"It's hard, actually, to find volunteer opportunities for young kids," said Julia Maness, mom to 8-year-old Savanna, who had mastered the tricky art of braiding and looping chew toys. "To be involved in the community, for her, I think is really great. Particularly on this day."

Though Savanna is just a Brownie, the older girls in her troop — who meet at Queen of Angels but come from various nearby elementary schools — are in the midst of a yearlong effort to earn the Girl Scouts highest honor, the Bronze Award.

"They pick a theme or an organization and learn how to come together for a cause," said troop leader Liz Wannemacher.

The girls chose to focus on helping pets, which led them to the Friendship Center. In addition to making the chew toys, they also held a pet food drive in November, and in the process gained an awareness of why pets might not have enough to eat or why some owners might need to relinquish their pets.

"It's helping them to understand a real civic issue," Wannemacher said.

The intergenerational component of Monday's event was important for the youngsters as well, she added, as the girls mingled with women remaining active well into their 70s, 80s and 90s.

The Craft Circle is just one of the programs sponsored by Forward Chicago, a nonprofit founded in the 47th Ward to keep residents of all ages engaged in the community.

Rogus, 73, has lived in Lincoln Square since the '60s and only just retired at age 70.

"It keeps me busy," she said of sewing. "Even if I watch TV, I have my hands doing something."

For Heidi Bush, director of the Friendship Center, seeing 8- to 93-year-olds gathered in service of a common cause was particularly gratifying given that the food pantry was just a glimmer of an idea a year ago.

"The fact that we were able to go from ground zero, to having the space, to fundraising — nobody thought it would happen," she said. "It's blown my mind how amazing the people in this neighborhood are, how much they want to help."

The pantry distributes food once a week on Thursday and once a month to pets. The remaining days, Bush's goal is to open up the Lawrence Avenue storefront to book clubs, after-school programs, community meetings and any other use neighbors dream up.

"This is exactly what we want this space to be used for," she said, looking at the group of crafters and scouts. "We really want to see this turn into a community space."