“In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’” Acts 20:35, ESV

It was more than a year ago when Maryville resident Joan Damm decided she wanted to share her talent for sewing with others.

The New York transplant who moved here for what she thought was a temporary assignment fell in love with Blount County and East Tennessee. When her husband’s assignment in Oak Ridge was up, they elected to stay.

They’ve been at Panorama Estates for 17 years, and over that time, the Damms have come to know many of their neighbors.

Damm got involved in a Bunco group where she met many women from the neighborhood. It is a social dice game, usually with 12 players. That started more than 10 years ago. But this past year, Damm said she wanted to have a new project: teaching her friends how to knit and crochet. She bought a box full of yarn.

The call went out to her Bunco friends, and they signed on. From 10 a.m. to noon each Monday, the women gather at Damm’s house to knit and crochet. Most all of the items they’ve made have been given away.

These past few weeks, said Knitting Neighbors member Brenda Roberts, the woman have put their skills to the test knitting stocking caps for men and women who serve our nation. The caps are worn underneath their helmets to provide more comfort and protection.

In November, Damm and her “students” made and donated 78 caps, which were picked up and delivered to McGhee Tyson Air National Guard. Months before that, they knitted 70 afghans for homeless individuals, residents of a women’s shelter and seniors receiving Meals on Wheels in Knoxville.

At present, the women continue to knit and crochet hats to be given out to help needy families stay warm. New coats and/or gently used clothes are also a part of the outreach ministry. Roberts took a load of children’s hats to the local fire department to be handed out.

“We are thankful and consider ourselves blessed to be able to contribute to our community,” explained Roberts. “There are many ways to help and many who are in need of help. We will continue to provide when we see a need.”

In addition to Damm and Roberts, the Knitting Neighbors are Kathy Holowinsky, Jean Darnes, Shirley Connors, Donna Murdock, Carole Engelhardt, DeAnne Gibbs, Michele Croslin, Shirley Canady, Donna Eklund and Teresa Guiliani.

Guiliani admits the work didn’t come easy for her, but she persisted.

“She was here one night until 7:30 learning to crochet,” Damm said. “She had dinner with us. She wasn’t leaving until she got it right.”

Murdock said Damm didn’t give up on any of them. She called Damm a “drill sergeant.” If you aren’t doing something right, she will correct it, Murdock said. As it should be.

In the end, Murdock chose crocheting and left the knitting to others. “I couldn’t learn to knit,” she said. “I could not get comfortable with the needles but I can crochet all day long. Joan showed me how.”

Damm said she learned to knit when she was 15, from a friend’s grandmother. She knitted her husband a sweater without using a pattern when he was in college and over the years made her children’s sweaters and hats.

But things for herself, never. It’s more fun to give than to receive.

All of the women will tell you that. That’s why none of them had any examples of their work, except for a few who were working on Christmas gifts for family and friends.

Guiliani, for example, has loved the knitting group and what it has allowed her to do. She has crocheted many hats that were delivered to a poor community in East Tennessee.

Of course the social aspect of this group of friends is also a reason they have continued on. They even met over the summer and spent some afternoons aboard Damm’s pontoon boat, which she learned how to navigate.

Holowinsky and Croslin admit they now come for the friendships. Neither ended up learning to knit and crochet, so they contribute to the refreshments and catch up on news of the neighborhood, where they have lived for about a year.

Damm has a stool she moves around the room as the new knitters and crocheters have questions. She said she wants to teach them all to make mittens next.

Whatever their next project, the completed items won’t be sitting around in their homes on display. They will all be given to those most in need.

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