SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — As temperatures quickly turn frigid, one organization is working long hours to help keep children and their families warm.
Long before the bell starts the day at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary School in Sioux Falls, a group of fifth graders is making blankets.
“One of our big pillars here is acts of service. I want children to know, no matter how young or old you are you have the power to positively impact somebody else,” Project Warm-Up Coordinator Tracy Vik said.
Tracy Vik is the Principal at Sonia Sotomayor and co-founder of Project Warm-up, which she started alongside her daughter.
“She was a junior at Lincoln High School and part of the Key Club and she wanted to have a service project, and we were just sitting and talking one day and we came up with fleece-tie blankets for the kids that were homeless in the Sioux Falls School District,” Vik said.
Project Warm-Up got its start in 2006, and has created or collected and distributed 32,000 blankets to children and families in need.
“What started out as a one-day event those first few years, now we have people that are making blankets year-round,” Vik said.
“I’ve always been a crafty person. I’ve been knitting since I was in fifth grade, so that’s always been something I’ve been drawn to,” 21-year-old Bethani Oaks said.
A year later, Bethani Oaks started making blankets at Edison Middle School, where Vik was Assistant Principal at the time.
“I would go during any of my free time that I could and just work with the fleece and blankets,” Oaks said.
Nearly a decade later…
“I never thought I’d still be doing this at 21 in my own apartment,” Oaks said.
…she’s still making blankets.
“My apartment is just filled with fleece all the time and I’m always looking for sales and it’s just been a blast. I’ve had my sister help me a little bit so having her and I be able to work on them together has been really fun,” Oaks said.
“There aren’t many middle school or high school kids that will take their allowance and their money from their own jobs and buy fleece for complete strangers, right? To do an act of service for a complete stranger, she said she’s made over 200 blankets in the last couple of years, at the lowest amount possible that’s $2,000,” Vik said.
“It’s really fun, especially knowing where they go,” 10-year-old Naomi Foster said. “The people in need, especially in like hospitals with health problems or with like home problems,” Foster added.
10-year-old Naomi Foster is a student at Sonia Sotomayor, and is following in Oaks’ footsteps. Foster has already been making blankets for six years, and has her favorites.
“There was this penguin one I delivered to this home dedication and I like that one,” Foster said.
The blankets often end up with organizations like Habitat for Humanity and Ronald McDonald House, or victims of disasters.
“If a family loses their home to a fire or flood or the tornados that have happened in our region, we try to get blankets to any of those family members as well. We just want folks to know that there are people out there that care about them, so when you wrap yourself up in that blanket you’re getting a hug from a stranger,” Vik said.
Project Warm-Up will also give blankets this month to the nearly 700 kids in the Sioux Falls School District classified as homeless prior to the long Christmas break.
“That’s 7.5 hours without two meals, breakfast and lunch provided, 7.5 hours of heat, of safety, of just a place to belong and so we really have to keep that in mind that while some people are having a big celebration other kids are hungry, cold, and maybe not in the safest environment,” Vik said.
Helping kids is the reason Vik and her daughter started Project Warm-Up, and it’s why she still does it today.
“We intended to touch a few lives, to hear the stories of people who are impacted by these blankets, it’s absolutely amazing and so far beyond anything we ever could have imagined happening. We just started out making some blankets for some kids and look at what it’s turned into,” Vik said.
Vik says her cousin started a Project Warm-Up in Colorado, benefiting kids in foster care, six years ago.
The local Project Warm-Up will host its annual blanket-making event Saturday, December 10th at Sonia Sotomayor Elementary. You can drop-off completed blankets or stay and help make blankets from 11:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m.