Melissa Shampine, a co-founder and East Campus Director of the Stony Brook Stitchers, started the volunteer program more than 10 years ago. Working in the cardiac intensive care unit at Stony Brook Hospital, Shampine saw how comforted patients were when they received a donated blanket or knitted hat. She realized that the need was much higher than the supply.
“I feel strongly about giving,” says Shampine, “People are so surprised that at a hospital as big as ours, they would receive something so personal. There’s so much love and prayers put into every stitch. They are truly touched by it.”
The Stony Brook Stitchers is an all-volunteer organization that creates and donates handmade items to people in need within SBU Hospital, Cancer Center, Children’s Hospital, and Long Island State Veteran’s Home. “We serve all the departments in the hospital, anyone that’s interested, “says Shampine.
In a typical year, the Stitchers receive 2,500 to 3,000 donated items. However, for 2019, they set a new goal of 4,000 and put out the call. Their network of volunteers came through with an outpouring of goodwill and determination. Thanks to their increased efforts, they were able to exceed their goal by nearly 100.
“Our volunteers are really so generous and creative,” says Jan Tassie, West Campus Director for the organization.
Many years ago, Tassie’s sister was battling cancer and having trouble sleeping. Someone had brought in a box of knitted hats, and when placed on her sister’s head, she was finally able to sleep. “For me, it’s bringing someone comfort that makes what we do so rewarding. We have a lot of people with very limited means, and they all get to go home with something precious. We are servicing patients all the way through from birth to end of life. It’s a tall order, but how thrilling.”
Last year they started a new program making superhero surgical caps for children going into surgery. Children get to choose their favorite superhero, bringing them some joy at a tough time, and then they get to take their cap home. It’s been an enormous success. However, one of their main supporters is retiring and moving away. While all volunteers are welcome, they currently have a great need for sewers.
The Stony Brook Stitchers have high hopes for the future. They would like to see the donations increase and beat last year’s goal. Every item donated goes directly to the patients; nothing is held onto or reused. Fran DiOrio works with Shampine at the hospital and volunteers her time every week to distribute donated items to the various departments.
“We get new requests all the time,” says Shampine. “We can always use more donations.”
Most of their volunteers find them through word of mouth and through the website, which is currently maintained by Stony Brook student volunteer Tatyana Jones, from Epsilon Sigma Phi Sorority.
“We get a large variety of volunteers. We have people that sew and knit. We have volunteers that are students, faculty, staff, and community members,” says Tassie. “Our volunteers range in age from 15 to 90 years old.”
Shampine and Tassie were all smiles, and sometimes teary-eyed as they shared countless heartwarming stories about both recipients and donors. They credited their coworkers, students, staff and supervisors for always being willing to help when needed.
For more information about how you can become involved visit Mission | Stony Brook Stitchers.
— Tamara Gregorian, Community Relations