Little Hats, Big Hearts raises awareness of congenital birth defects

January 23, 2019 GMT

MILFORD — Knitting comes naturally to Florence Chicos, who started knitting and crocheting when she was a child decades and decades ago.

So on Saturday, Chicos and a dozen other residents at Carriage Green in Milford, a Benchmark assisted living community, was able to help with fulfilling an order for red hats to be distributed to babies born in Connecticut hospitals in February.

Hundreds of people around the state took up knitting needles and crocheting hooks for “Little Hats, Big Hearts,” which celebrates American Heart month and helps raise awareness of congenital hearth defects.

According to the American Heart Association, which organized the program in connection with the Children’s Heart Foundation, congenital heart defects are the most common type of birth defect in the country.

Congenital heart defects are structural problems with the heart present at birth.

“They result when a mishap occurs during heart development soon after conception and often before the mother is aware that she is pregnant,” according to the AHA. “Defects range in severity from simple problems, such as holes between chambers of the heart, to very severe malformations, such as complete absence of one or more chambers or valves.”

Twenty-seven hospitals in Connecticut are participating in the Little Hats program, from Bridgeport Hospital and Danbury Hospital to Yale New Haven Hospital.

Every baby born at one of the hospitals in February will receive one of the little red hats made by volunteers.

In 2018, more than 200,000 hats were distributed.

“Some of the volunteers are personally connected to this program, either having a child who was born with a congenital heart defect or in loving memory of those lost to heart defects and heart disease,” states an AHA press release.

The ladies knitting and crocheting in Milford Saturday said they are accustomed to tapping their skills to help out the community.

Joan Callendrillo, retired preschool director at St. Mary’s School in Milford, sat beside her mother, Marie Montemarano, who lives at Carriage Green.

Callendrillo has knitted hats for babies before, including for Milford’s St. Mary’s Church mission to Haiti program. Knitting was a skill taught to her as a child by her aunt.

Doris Quagliani, executive director of Carriage Green, said the residents and staff at Carriage Green often unite for a cause.

“Our mission is to elevate the human connection and keep everyone connected to what matters most,” Quagliani said, “not just as it relates to our own residents, families and associates inside the community but also fostering strong relations outside of the community too.”

Toni Ann McKane, programming director at Carriage Green, said the goal is to create 100 hats by Feb. 1, which will be added to those made at other Benchmark properties and other locations and households pitching in for the cause.

By about 2 p.m. Saturday, Chicos, whose mother taught all her children to knit, had made about six hats: Some she knitted, some she crocheted, and she was helping Pauline Boyum, another Carriage Green resident, get started on the hat pattern.

Like Chicos and Boyum, the women in the room had been practicing the craft since they were children. Vera Overchuck, for example, grew up in the Walnut Beach section of Milford. An older woman living there at the time gathered a group of neighborhood girls, then about 10 and 12 years old, and taught them to crochet.

“I thought it would be a nice thing to do in the summer, sitting on the beach,” Overchuck said.

The others told similar stories about learning to knit or crochet from a mother or aunt, and they talked about all the hats, slippers, sweaters and blankets they created over the years.

It’s a relaxing pastime, Overchuck said.

And with their lifelong skills, most of them could finish a hat in an hour.

For more information about the Little Hats, Big Hearts program, visit heart.org/littlehatsbighearts.