Knitting group donates 250th hat to cancer center – no stopping now

Right to left: Oncology social worker Jilynne Hafen, clinic coordinator at radiation oncology Jen Stafford and Valerie Johnson pose with Johnson's 250th donated hat at the Intermountain Cancer Center in St. George, Utah, March 19, 2021 | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — What began as St. George resident Valerie Johnson’s small, solo project, led to her comradery with nine others – and the joint production of 250 hats.

Valerie Johnson, left, shows a group member how to knit the crown of a hat in St. George, Utah, March 24, 2021 | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News.

In 2019, Johnson began knitting hats for her husband, who was receiving treatment at Intermountain Cancer Center. During that time, Johnson donated whatever extra hats she had to the cancer center. After her husband passed away that September, Johnson gathered a group of friends who lived nearby to keep her company while she continued her project. 

“Valerie and I and Joyce, Heather and Jenny, we’re all widows,” Linda Wall, one of the original group members, told St. George News. “It helped us to get together … so we had somebody that understood us.”

The group, recently nicknamed “Val’s Gals,” has grown to include friends of friends who live outside Johnson’s development. The group members agreed that the best part of doing what they do is getting to spend some social time together and do something of service at the same time. Leslie Lubeck, the group’s newest addition, said she looks forward to coming to the group every week because it doesn’t feel like just hanging out. The group usually meets at Johnson’s house, and they talk about everything from politics to funny stories, all while doing something good. 

“Being the new person, the thing that I found is how different we all are and yet we have this in common,” Lubeck told St. George News. “And all our differences can be put aside and we can just laugh, and I look forward to Wednesdays.”

To celebrate the 250th hat being dropped off, a friend of Johnson’s invited the group to her home last week for a special luncheon. After all the salmon and shrimp cocktails they could eat, the group gathered in the living room to get back to work. Most of the women in the group knit, but two crochet and one uses a loom. They also teach each other how to knit or crochet if someone wants to try something new. 

None of the group members are originally from St. George, and there isn’t much that connects them other than their craft. Despite their differences, Lubeck added that that’s not how it feels.

“It feels like we’re all the same,” she said. 

Jen Stafford, clinic coordinator at radiation oncology and front desk attendant at Intermountain Cancer Center, poses by a basket of hats donated to the cancer center at Intermountain Cancer Center in St. George, Utah, March 19, 2021 | Photo by Megan Webber, St. George News

Once the group has finished about 10 or 20 hats, Johnson puts them in a plastic bag and drives to the cancer center to drop them off. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, cancer patients could pick up a hat from a basket in one of the waiting areas. When the pandemic hit, hats had to be picked up at the front desk. Now, some are left out in baskets again for patients to grab. 

Jen Stafford, clinic coordinator for radiation oncology and front desk attendant at Intermountain Cancer Center, said any patient who wants a hat is welcome to have one.

Communications specialist Bonnie Hennefer added that the hospital and cancer patients are grateful for the donations they’ve received from Johnson’s group, and they are always willing to accept more. 

After 250 hats, Val’s Gals are not ready to slow down. They joked that it would be hard to top the luncheon that marked this milestone, but if they make it to 500 hats, a trip to Las Vegas may be called for.

Johnson’s group uses yarn from around the house to make their hats, but they also accept donations. Anyone who would like to donate yarn can email Valerie Johnson.

Copyright St. George News, LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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