Los Altos resident Sandy Goldstein has long put her talents and energy to use to help those in need. Over the years, she has organized drives for books for a Louisiana library post-Hurricane Katrina and stuffed animals for children in Asia and South America, and trained dogs for Canine Companions for Independence (her own dog "flunked out" of the program, she said). But for the past seven years, she has devoted herself to a singular cause: keeping homeless people warm.
Originally from the Bronx, the former software engineer has made California her home for 59 years, settling in Los Altos after two years in Mountain View. When her mother - an avid knitter - died, she left behind a large supply of yarn, and Goldstein started making scarves.
"I made a scarf, and then I made another scarf," Goldstein said. "I found out about the Sunnyvale Armory, and my husband and I went over with a few bags of scarves that I had made for them. And then it just kept growing and growing and growing. … It’s a big project now."
Indeed, One Warm Scarf - comprising Goldstein and an army of volunteers - makes thousands of scarves, hats, slippers, blankets and knitted animals each year. The approximately 200 creators come from knitting groups such as the Los Altos Knitting Club, the Los Altos Knitting Kittens, the Mountain View Senior Center Knitting Club, the Cupertino Senior Center Knitting Club and the Sunnyvale Senior Center Knitting Club, as well as a variety of church groups and individuals.
When Goldstein issues her periodic calls for donations of yarn in the Town Crier, soon her stock, which dwindles in fall and winter, is replenished. In addition to generous donations from area residents, she said the Los Altos yarn shop Uncommon Threads is a big source of materials.
"They have their yarn swap every year, and when the swap ends, they say come and get the leftovers. They’ve been wonderful," she said of the State Street shop. "And some of our seniors have been unbelievably won- derful, too."
From fiber to fabulous
Knitters and crocheters then work their magic with the donated skeins.
In addition to the regular supply of scarves, hats and slippers for homeless shelters, the group recently donated approximately 300 knitted washcloths to East Palo Alto’s We Hope shelter.
"They have five buses (outfitted) with washing machines and dryers and showers. We made a bunch of washcloths for them," Goldstein said. "When the people come and take their shower, they’re given a washcloth, which is really nice."
Goldstein’s friend and dedicated volunteer Linda Newman, who helps Goldstein sort and package each week, has a special talent.
"She makes these wonderful (knitted stuffed) animals," Goldstein said. "We bring them to the shelter when they have young women who are pregnant and without any support system, like in Bill Wilson (shelter in Santa Clara). We bring them to CORA - a battered women’s shelter. This was a by-product. She just started making animals, and loves doing it."
Early in the fall, Goldstein planned to extend the reach of One Warm Scarf by sending blankets, hats and knitted animals down to asylum-seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border. They had previously donated blankets to refugee families. An Apache Indian reservation in Arizona is another past recipient. Migrant workers in Pescadero also benefit from the project.
"We distribute to whatever organization has a need," she said, though most are local.
The knitters’ output is distributed to more than a dozen homeless shelters from Santa Cruz to San Francisco. Supplementing their regular gifts of warm things, the group makes knitted or crocheted bags that attach to wheelchairs or walkers for veterans at the VA Hospital. Helen Farnham, who works at the VA Hospital, fills the bags with a variety of items and gives them out around the holidays.
Goldstein plans to keep One Warm Scarf going as long as she is able.
"It gives me a lot of joy to talk to some of these seniors who are so involved and happy and proud of what they do," she said of her legion of knitters. "I do enjoy the process, and I like the idea of giving to these homeless people. It just breaks my heart to see, in this rich area, how many people are hurting and are in need."
She said she was brought up with the concept "that when someone’s in need, you try to help. … My father was really into making sure that if anybody needed something, they would get it. And you have to feel worthwhile - you have to feel there’s something to wake up for - when your kids are up and out."
When asked what she liked best about working on the project, Newman replied, "Everything, honestly." She said she enjoys waking up each morning and planning and creating her animals.
Goldstein added that Newman also likes giving them. And to Newman directly: "You’ve been so helpful in sorting the yarn that comes and rolling the scarves that come in. … I don’t think I could do it without you."
According to its website, One Warm Scarf’s mission is "to help the world without the exchange of money. Moving things from people who have to people who don’t have."
"What’s nice is that it’s zero money - everything is done with no money," Goldstein said. "We’re able to do a lot, especially seniors; they don’t have a lot of money, but they have a lot of talent and will."
How to help
One Warm Scarf is always in need of yarn donations, as well as knitters and crocheters. Goldstein said scarves should ideally measure "from the floor up to your chin, and at least 6 or 7 inches wide - we want it to wrap around and be warm." Volunteers prefer unisex sizes and colors, but they can find recipients for anything. They also welcome blankets, hats and slippers.