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Giving a Little Security to Those Who Need It the Most

Children: When Karen Loucks-Baker read a magazine piece about how blankets help sick kids get through the difficult times, she knew she had to get involved.

June 04, 1996|KATHLEEN DOHENY | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

At age 12, John Sandbrook of Ventura already shows signs of becoming a sensitive, '90s kind of guy who's not afraid to show his feelings.

From beneath the covers of his bed at Childrens Hospital Los Angeles, he pulls out Meme, his blue teddy bear. "I got this when I was 2," he offers (back when the world revolved around "Me. Me.") "I squeeze it when I get my shots."

No wonder John, whose illness was diagnosed as rhabdomyosarcoma, a malignant tumor, was picked to be the first Los Angeles recipient of Project Linus, a nationwide blanket giveaway program that eases the ordeal for hospitalized children.

Looking over a half dozen quilts and afghans spread out on his bed, John's blue-green eyes lit on the beige, blue and red quilt with Raggedy Ann and Andy in the middle.

Project Linus--named for Charles Schulz's blanket-toting cartoon character--was born last Christmas Eve when Karen Loucks-Baker of Parker, Colo., read a magazine piece about children with cancer and other diseases and how blankets helped some get through the difficult times.

What better way to put her newly acquired crocheting skills to good use, she thought. The experts agree.

"Blankets are comfort items for children," says Cathy Robinson, a child development specialist at Childrens Hospital. Adds Dr. Victoria Millet, a pediatrician at Encino-Tarzana Regional Medical Center: "A blanket could be something to focus on, a positive, cheerful thing."

One talk show and several Internet messages later, Loucks-Baker was in business, setting up chapters coast to coast and racking up $500 in monthly phone bills while persuading others to knit, crochet or quilt more blankets. She tapped an old high school friend, Brenda Landau Goodman, to be Los Angeles coordinator for the program, which has spread to 45 cities in five months.

"If you make a blanket, 100% goes right to the child," says Loucks-Baker, 32, who is heavily involved in other charity fund-raising efforts with her husband, drummer Ginger Baker.

So far, more than 1,000 blankets have been donated by Loucks-Baker. "We got a blanket from Vanna White and we have been promised a blanket any day now from Linda Ronstadt."

Other heroes, says Loucks-Baker, include volunteers such as Mary Jane Napolillo of Rancho Palos Verdes. "When I heard about Project Linus, I had just finished my last round of chemotherapy," says Napolillo, who has breast cancer. She remembered how she felt when she came out of surgery: "I wanted something that belonged to me; I grabbed my bathrobe and held onto it."

So far, Napolillo has donated 11 crocheted blankets.

* For information on Project Linus, call (310) 836-9798.

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