Winter comfort: Handicrafters' gifts go to vulnerable Baltimoreans

December 15, 2023

From left, Lena Bradford Brown, Monyette Hopkins and Terri Clayman create winter wear for donation to Baltimore's Health Care for the Homeless organization. For about seven years, they and other employees, retirees and community members of Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center have been knitting and crocheting winter accessories that Health Care for the Homeless in turn gives its clients. Photo by Jennifer McMenamin Photography, LLC


Last Christmas Eve, the temperature in Baltimore plummeted to 6 degrees, the coldest day there in 2022. And the Farmers' Almanac says this winter in Maryland likely will be "frosty, flaky and slushy."

A group of volunteers at Baltimore's Mercy Medical Center hopes to provide people who are experiencing homelessness with a little more protection from frigid temperatures this winter by supplying them with hats, scarves, gloves, and other winter accessories — most of the items hand-knitted or hand-crocheted.

For at least seven years, the pharmacy staff at Mercy has been organizing an annual collection of such accessories to donate at Christmastime to Baltimore's Health Care for the Homeless, a federally qualified health center serving about 12,000 of the most vulnerable community members.

Christina Bauer, development director for Health Care for the Homeless, says for the organization's staff to be able to offer the winter accessories to their clients is a way of saying "I care about you."

"Our clients are so grateful, and we wouldn't have this without Mercy," she says.

K2P2 and the Chain Gang
Mercy was part of a coalition that formed Health Care for the Homeless and wrote the application for the first grant for the organization in 1984. Mercy has partnered with that agency in the delivery of health care services. Health Care for the Homeless includes a main clinic and satellite and mobile locations around the city, most of which are co-located with another service provider. The network offers primary care, pediatrics, obstetrics, dental services, behavioral health and other services.

Bauer says the winter accessory donation began when some Mercy staff who interface with the health center wondered whether their knitting and crocheting skills could benefit the center's clients. Health Care for the Homeless graciously accepted their offer.

Monyette Hopkins, a Mercy pharmacy inventory specialist, says a former pharmacist formed a club of sorts, called Knit Two, Purl Two, or K2P2, and the Chain Gang. K2P2 is the knitters, and the Chain Gang is the crocheters of the club. Photo by Jennifer McMenamin Photography, LLC

Monyette Hopkins is a Mercy pharmacy inventory specialist. She says a former pharmacist formed a club of sorts, called Knit Two, Purl Two, or K2P2, and the Chain Gang. K2P2 is the knitters, and the Chain Gang is the crocheters of the club. The club's founder helped newbies to learn to knit.

The club originally handmade accessories for the babies in the neonatal intensive care unit and for patients undergoing infusion therapy. But when the donations outstripped the need, the groups sought a new outlet for their creative skills. They first helped a children's health outreach program. But when that program closed, the club landed on the idea of helping the federally qualified health center.

Community effort
The annual enterprise has taken on a life of its own. Hopkins says the groups in the pharmacy begin spreading the word around September that they are again collecting knitted and crocheted winter accessories. Those who lack the knack for knitting but still desire to help can donate store-bought winter wear. Some people donate yarn that others can use to make the accessories.

Every year, members of Mercy Medical Center's knitting and crocheting club join numerous other Baltimore community members in making winter accessories for people who are experiencing homelessness. The club donates 300 to 350 items. Photo by Jennifer McMenamin Photography, LLC


The groups normally collect about 300 to 350 winter accessories and give them to Health Care for the Homeless each December. That organization keeps them on hand to offer to clients who do not have appropriate coverings for the winter weather. All of the center's clients — men, women, children — can pick out winter items from the collection.

Lena Bradford Brown is a pharmacy technician with Mercy who crochets for K2P2 and the Chain Gang. She says that there are many Mercy patients who are homeless, and she enjoys crocheting for the annual collection because it gives her a way to try to help this population, in her own way. Terri Clayman, who is a retired Mercy pharmacist, continues to knit for the accessory collection. She says she is part of multiple knitting clubs, and she always invites her fellow knitters as well as other creative souls at her temple to contribute. Anyone can donate accessories, not just Mercy employees.

Hopkins says in one case, a person who was homeless used donated yarn to create winter wear for others in need.

Hopkins says everyone who participates enjoys the chance to give back. "It feels good to brighten someone's day," she says.


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