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BENEFITS O.C.

A Warm, Fuzzy Feeling : Ah, to curl up in a hand-knit blanket on a cool night or after a hard day. A loop of volunteers makes it possible for the needy.

September 02, 1997|KATHRYN BOLD

Richard Torre of Laguna Hills calls it "the perfect loop." His mother lives alone in Florida and keeps herself busy by knitting blankets for the needy in Orange County.

The cross-country connection fills several needs.

Jean Torre, a 77-year-old resident of Boynton Beach, has crocheted hundreds of blankets that a network of Orange County residents have delivered to teen mothers, senior centers, women's shelters, homeless programs and other charities. The arrangement gives Torre something to do while providing the homeless and others with a little warmth.

"It makes my heart feel good to know that I'm making something for needy people," Jean Torre said over the phone.

She crochets a couple of lap-sized blankets a week, turning them out while she listens to books on tape. Her severe vision problem occasionally results in blankets with unusual color combinations, but she can feel the stitches with her hands.

"My hands go like crazy," she said.

Her son Richard and his wife, Linda, have provided the link that brings the blankets to the local needy. Torre, chairman of Global Capital Markets Inc. in Irvine, supplies his mother with enough yarn to keep her needles clicking. Every 18 months or so, he buys a couple thousand skeins from a supplier in Texas.

"My mother cranks out blankets like there's no tomorrow," Torre said. "After she has 10 or 15, the UPS guy comes and packs them up for her."

Once they reach Orange County, the blankets get delivered through several channels. Libby Carlsson, an Irvine resident and member of the local Assistance League, began distributing blankets a couple of years ago with the help of girls who belong to the league's Assisteens auxiliary.

Carlsson and her husband, Dan, have found homes for the blankets at the Irvine Medical Center, where they have been given to patients who use wheelchairs; the Human Options shelter for abused women and children in Irvine; and an Alzheimer's care center and seniors center. Carlsson likes the idea that blankets made by an older person often get distributed by young people to other older people.

"It's an interesting cycle," said Carlsson, who helps find homes for 15 to 25 blankets monthly. "I'm trying to do this for Jean. Being a senior isn't easy."

Torre recently donated 20 blankets to Serving People In Need (SPIN), a substance abuse recovery and housing assistance program in Costa Mesa. SPIN gave the blankets as housewarming gifts to families moving out of the agency's long-term shelter into their own homes.

"We get wide-eyed looks of wonder from the children," said Jean Wegner, executive director of SPIN. "They're amazed that a woman they don't even know took the time to crochet a blanket for them, and that she wanted them to have it as a special gift to snuggle up with at night."

The children want to know all about Torre, from the color of her hair (silver) to the amount of time she spends knitting every day (six hours).

Torre loves receiving thank-you letters from those who get one of her blankets. She saves them in a scrapbook. Yet the greatest thank you of all is one that the vision-impaired woman from Florida doesn't see, when the SPIN volunteers give the blankets to the children. Says Wegner:

"They clutch the blanket and hold it next to their face."

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