The US’ most famous charity has new programs and initiatives to go along with their age-old mission of afghan squares to warm the homeless
Warm Up America is actually a relatively recent charity. Evie Rosen founded it in the early 1990s (more about that later!). But, it may be one of the most famous, if not the most famous knitting charity in the United States.
Thanks to endorsements from celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Loretta Swit, Rosie O’Donnell, and Vanna White, most knitters who are at all interested in charity knitting have heard of Warm Up America.
In the Beginning, there was Evie Rosen
If ever there was an senior knitter who defied the old stereotypes, it was Evie Rosen. Born in 1926, Evie graduated from the University of Wisconsin – Madison with a Bachelor of Science degree in occupational therapy in 1947. For many years, she worked as an occupational therapist.
But in 1964, lifelong knitter Evie decided to open a knitting shop called The Knitting Nook, with her partner Joy Levine. Evie taught knitting around the country for years. She was a big part of developing the Craft Yarn Council of America’s Certified Instructors program.
According to her children Michael Rosen and Robbin Stott, Evie always had a huge heart for others. In the early 1990s, when homelessness was starting to be recognized as a national crisis, Evie started creating afghans for her local shelter.
As charity knitters, you and I can probably empathize with Evie’s next thought. “I’ve been knitting afghans and donating them to a local shelter. But I can’t knit them fast enough to fill the need.”
Her following idea was brilliant. “What if we break down the task of making blankets to manageable parts so we can involve lots more people?” (Both quotes from Warm Up America website, About WUA)
The Birth of Warm Up America
Of course, you’ll recognize the foundation of Warm Up America. 7″ x 9″ squares that knitters of all skill levels can make easily.
Warm Up America spread like wildfire throughout the country. The celebrity endorsements certainly helped, of course! A “Local Hero” feature in Time Magazine helped as well.
In addition to its appeal to knitters of all skill levels, Warm Up America also had another wonderful benefit. You know all those leftover bits and bobs that accumulate in any avid knitter’s stash? It turned out that 7″ x 9″ squares fit perfectly with those leftovers!
Thanks to the explosion of publicity, Warm Up America quickly became too much for just Evie and her friend Mary Colucci (who would become executive director of Craft Yarn Council of America) to handle alone. In 1994, just a few years after Evie began the charity, CYCA took over the program’s operations.
Warm Up America Today
Sadly, Evie Rosen died in 2012 at the age of 86. But what a legacy she left behind! Under the strong direction of CYCA, the program continues to encourage knitters to help needy folks all over the country.
Its nationwide name notwithstanding, this program was never meant to have one central location. WUA encourages knitters to create for their own communities. And one of the great successes of the program is that knitters do exactly that!
All the same, WUA does have a central office in Carollton, Texas. This office continues to serve as a distribution center for knitters who aren’t able to find a local donation point.
I’ve been interested in charity knitting since 2007, as my copy of Knitting for Peace can attest (based on the inscription my mom wrote on the inside cover). I’ve known about WUA since then, and I’ve seen many remarkable changes.
Warm Up America’s Latest programs: Made with Love and Box of 500
I’m especially excited about two big changes that I think create wonderful opportunities for knitters (and crocheters) to touch the lives of needy folks in their communities.
First is their Made with Love campaign. This program began in 2015 in association with the Dallas Yarn Bombers.
This campaign encourages groups of knitters and crocheters to gather together in their community to “bomb” public spaces with hats, scarves, and mittens that anyone in need can take at any time.
You can find out more about Made with Love here.
Second is their Box of 500 campaign. This one is super-simple! It comprises many volunteers who each send a few squares to Warm Up America. At Warm Up America, these squares are packed up in a box.
This box is sent to a final volunteer. This person will seam together all the squares and then donate the finished blanket in their own community.
I really love this idea because it encourages the donation of afghans all over the country! You can learn more about Box of 500 (including how to sign up to be a Box recipient) here.
Warm Up America Standards
Of course, the standard WUA project is the 7″ x 9″ square. You can find a variety of patterns, both knit and crochet, for square here. At this link, you’ll also find a helpful chart to show you the number of squares you’ll need for various-sized blankets.
WUA accepts squares, finished afghans, and various winter weather accessories all the time. However, if you want to meet their most pressing needs, you’ll want to visit the Current Needs section on their website.
For help with assembling blankets, check out this page.
A new, fun feature of the WUA website is their Unboxing with WUA. This is a video they record every time they open a new box of donations. You can find their entire playlist of past Unboxing with WUA episodes here. And here you’ll find their newest video.
And, since Craft Yarn Council of America runs Warm Up America, you won’t be surprised to know that they encourage knitters to teach others to knit. If you’d love to help others learn to love knitting the way you do, check out CYCA’s Knitting Teaching Guide.
Whether you help Warm Up America by knitting, teaching others to knit, or seaming together blankets, you’ll know that your efforts can help keep needy folks warm. And really, what could be more rewarding than that?
Looking for afghan square patterns? Take a look at the fun stitch patterns featured here!