West Allis - During this year's hot summer days and record heat waves, while air conditioners were cranked up and children spent all day in their swimsuits, eight women from Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish in the West Allis instead were preparing for the cold days ahead.
They're known as the the H.O.L.Y. Loomers, a group of Hooked On Looming Yarn volunteers who spend hours wrapping yarn around loom pegs to knit hats and scarves throughout the year for a charitable reason: Their finished work is donated to the St. Vincent de Paul sponsored food pantry.
The H.O.L.Y. Loomers are a diverse group of women ranging from 45 to 75 years old. Some are retired, others employed full-time. Some are beginners, and some are quick learners. But, as their gathering prayer reminds them, they all have the same motivation: "to bring healing, and wholeness, comfort and celebration" to those in need.
Discovering the loom
Connie Christensen, a self-taught loomer, volunteers her time teaching members of the parish her hobby.
"God blessed me with a lot of creativity and ways to manifest it," Christensen said, who discovered the loom soon after her arthritis stopped her from needle-knitting.
For her, it was a quick transition from learner to teacher.
While getting her oil changed at a car dealership in May 2007, she saw a woman in the waiting room with a loom in hand. Christensen immediately approached her to ask what it was.
It was enough to turn her interest into action.
Six months later she was teaching back-to-back classes, with a total of almost 30 students, in looming.
"We are the beneficiaries of Connie's creativity," said Kathy Smith, a ministry director at the Immaculate Heart of Mary. "She came to me with the idea to teach parishioners to loom, and was willing to volunteer her time."
After a 15-week class, the H.O.L.Y. Loomers had learned the basics, and were prepared to begin knitting hats and scarves for the visitors of the food pantry.
Barb Koepke-Lynch, a member of the H.O.L.Y. Loomers, holds down a full-time job, but still manages to attend the meetings.
"I have made 82 hats since the class began," Koepke-Lynch said.
Last October, the H.O.L.Y. Loomers distributed more than 100 matching hat and scarf sets to visitors of the pantry, and this year they are on track to do the same.
"A lot of work goes into these hats," Koepke-Lynch said, "but it's all worth it to when you see smiles on the children's faces at the food pantry."
It was a new world for many of the loomers. The Immaculate Heart of Mary Parish houses the St. Vincent de Paul-sponsored food pantry, but many of the Loomers had never been to it.
"It is a small room, and we only had one day to hand them out. But, the experience was incredibly rewarding for the Loomers," Smith said.
Looming as one
And, of course, there's the significant social element that keeps them together.
The H.O.L.Y. Loomers is more than a weekly class, or a monthly meeting, they say. It's a time for the women to get together.
Like a book club or a bridge group, these women spend a lot of time chatting and building friendships, and are insistent that they never miss a session. Many of the members described it as a therapeutic hobby spent with friends.
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