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Helping Out with Handmade Treasures

DIY ideas for every skill level

Handmade crafts are labors of love and happiness generators. Creating items for people in need is a great way to give back to your community or help others around the world. You can craft on your own or with a Crafting Team: your family, neighbors, weekly gaming club or community group. Before you start, ask your local hospital or fire department which DIY items they accept. They may help spark some new ideas.Here’s how to become an extremely crafty volunteer.

For beginning crafters:

Fill a package with delight. Stuff a shirt of personal care items to give to a shelter, or donate a box of books to a family. If you know people on military duty, care packages will bring smiles to their faces—and reminders of home. Include books, toiletries, games like dice or a Frisbee. If you get the kids involved, they could decorate picture frames or craft other treasures.

Design thoughtful treasures. What if you could give a special surprise to an ill child—or 50 children? The Children’s Inn at the National Institutes of Health is a home away from home for such children. Each of them receives a key to their very own mailbox where they find a special gift awaiting them every day. Items that you craft or buy become the best possible mail and create instant joy.

Keep your neighbors prepared. Get ready for the unexpected with a decorated and stocked Emergency Supply Kit, complete with checklists, plastic bags to protect vital documents, water, food, a flashlight, a radio and more. Make one for yourself first, then distribute some to neighbors and friends so they can be prepared, too.

For intermediate crafters:

Paint, grow and share. Decorate inexpensive terracotta pots with ceramic paint, then fill them with potting soil and a seed packet. Give these eco-friendly crafts to neighbors and friends—it’s a great way to say thanks, introduce yourself or teach children about gardening. All the recipients will have to do is add water.

Make a memory book. Plan to visit a senior center, sit with a resident and help her scrapbook her memories. She’ll bring the photos and you’ll come bearing the supplies: an album, scissors and tape, photo corners, backgrounds, markers and stickers. Ask what she’d like to document and then help her organize it all in a creative, attractive way.

Roll, mash, laugh, repeat. Whether age 4 or 94, everyone likes playing with colorful, squishy play dough. You can make your own —and it will keep for years! Take the dough to a senior center for a fun visit. Bring your kids or grandkids for a game: Who can mold the most colorful creation? Or ask everyone to craft their favorite animal.

Add a homey touch. Help make a friend’s home or room even friendlier with your own décor. Decorate a lampshade with craft glue and buttons, ribbons or drawings, or create a wall corkboard with old wine bottle corks, a picture frame with a backing and a hot glue gun. If your friend likes wine, share a bottle while you find a place to put your creation.

For advanced crafters:

Welcome people home with door décor. The fun thing about wreaths is that you can make them out of almost anything—not just evergreens and hollies. Donate them to neighbors or as door prizes for charity events.

Share the ultimate comfort. Creating a security blanket for a seriously ill or traumatized child makes a tremendous difference. As a Project Linus “blanketeer,” you can give new, handmade, washable blankets to children ages 0–18, and any size or style is fine—the blankets just have to be high quality.

Create simple beauty for the table. Table décor is a beautiful way to make a table more welcoming. Focus on one or two elements in a container for a simple and bold fruit or floral centerpiece. Another idea: grow grass seed with soil in a clear container, and add one colorful item on top—a pinwheel, or an origami flower.

You could give the centerpiece to a nursing home or a nearby family to brighten their dining room. Or try it out on your own table—then invite neighbors who live alone to a nice meal.

Sew, then reap thanks from others. Savvy at stitching? You’d be surprised how many people would be grateful for your skill. You can join larger service projects, like mending communities by sewing garments or teaching sewing at a kids’ camp. Or save time and money for neighbors and friends by mending a dress, hemming a pant leg or patching a hole in upholstery.

Once you try one (or more!) of these crafty ideas, snap a photo and post it to our Pinterest page. Please share how you used your volunteer time to make the crafts. If you want to try a new craft or find others to craft with, visit Create the Good to find a volunteer opportunity near you.

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Your handmade items are in demand

Whether you quilt, sew, crochet, knit, glue or tape, there are dozens of charities that accept handmade pieces. One is Save the Children’s Caps for Good, which gives baby caps to mothers in Africa, Asia and Latin America as part of newborn health programs. They’ll appreciate your effort.