crafting-hands-1JPGA mother never fully recovers from losing a child, but maybe they can eventually heal and find peace.

That’s the hope of the Umbrella Ministries, a nationwide network of mothers who have lost a child and are working to provide love and support to other broken-hearted, grieving mothers. Since its founding in 1996, Umbrella Ministries has helped thousands of bereft mothers around the country and now has both a West Coast and East Coast chapter. Recently, Saint Elizabeth’s rapidly growing Crafting Hands Ministry provided 85 prayer shawls – small, crocheted blankets – to each mom who attended an Umbrella Ministries retreat.

The shawls were draped over each mother during a cathartic “say their name” ceremony.

One of the shawl recipients later wrote our Crafting Hands team a heartfelt thank you note with details about her deceased child. Her son’s name was Brandon. Unexpectedly, the Saint Elizabeth crafter who had made this mother’s specific shawl also has a son named Brandon.  At that realization, shivers, goosebumps, and an unearthly stillness permeated the crafters’ meeting.

“This is more than a coincidence, this is the work of the Holy Spirit,” said Deb Romich, co-leader of Saint Elizabeth’s Crafting Hands Ministry and one of the original members of Saint Elizabeth Parish. “We are touching people’s lives in special ways, but we are just as touched by the experience of comforting others. There is such great need for this.”

The Crafting Hands Ministry began at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Deb Romich and Mary Fontana held the inaugural meeting in September of 2020. “Honestly, we thought we would attract maybe 8-10 people to make a few blankets for the needy, but it has blossomed into something much bigger,” explained Romich. “We now have more than 50 members with a variety of talents including sewing, knitting, crocheting, and jewelry-making (rosaries) plus a dedicated delivery team who transport the finished products all over the Philadelphia area and beyond.”

Crafting Hands also has gone from serving four non-profit agencies to more than 30 such as Martha’s Manor and Camilla Hall, to name just two.

“It’s a wonderful group of people – mostly women, but of all ages,” explained Mary Fontana. “We make baby blankets, ‘lapghans,’ baby booties, baby bibs, burp cloths, blankets, prayer shawls, and much more and deliver them to a wide range of recipients.”

One of their recent projects involved making “baby-shower-in-a-bag” kits for six pregnant veterans at the Coatesville VA. Each kit included knitted baby items, and a baby t-shirt embroidered with the words “My Mom’s a Hero.” Their next delivery is being made this June.  

“We make so many beautiful, and unique crafts – for instance, in addition to blankets for vets, we make beaded rosaries for our First Holy Communion kids,” Deb added. “But, we would love to expand the ministry to include additional forms of craft making.”

The Crafting Hands Ministry is open to everyone, of any age and any ability – you don’t need any special crafting skills. Experienced crafters enjoy teaching new members how to sew, knit, crochet and more, so it’s also an opportunity to learn something new! Conveniently, crafters work on their items at home and bring them in on the fourth Thursday of the month for “show-and-tell,” the opportunity to swap materials and ask crafting questions.

“It’s a great time for fellowship and fun, but it’s also an opportunity to share the joy and appreciation that we receive from the recipients of our gifts to the rest of the group,” concluded Deb. “We hear from grateful people who have been touched by the work of our hands and it’s inspiring. The Holy Spirit is here, always, but the special moments like with Brandon’s mother – that’s our gift in return.”

-Lisa Barbadora