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York seniors make hats for cancer patients, sick babies

Nobody better tell this gang of women - and one lonely man - in York that they are too old to help somebody else. Not when those they are helping with knitted and crocheted hats are sick with cancer, or babies clinging to life, or somebody in a nursing home who needs a gift.

This group dubbed "The Hat Ladies - Plus One Man" are regulars at the York County Council on Aging senior center in downtown York.

It is a place of retirees, where bingo is not a game but a death-match.

But apart from games, a lady who learned how to crochet and knit six decades before - Roberta Sargent - thought it might be a good idea for people to learn to knit and crochet.

"And I thought if we could help premature babies, maybe the sick in hospitals, we could really do something here," said Sargent, the ringleader. "Hats are the easiest to make."

Hats for Hope, and Bonnets for Babies, was born.

The yarn came in through donations, and the regulars who never knew how to knit or crochet - knitting is two needles, crochet one needle, and don't you dare confuse the two - started to learn. The few ladies who had learned from grannies around the time of World War II took it up again.

Before long, there was a sewing circle each day. Those who needed to used a loom, a round frame, to make the hats.

Over the past few months, this place that exists to provide services such as meals to seniors has turned into a smiling factory of free labor of sorts, sending hats made from donated yarn to nursing homes, hospice providers and children's hospitals. There are hats of all colors and sizes. Hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of hats.

The roster is a cross-section of western York County, with ages from early 60s to well past 90.

In the group are great names of older ladies. No Brittanys or Hunters allowed. There is Roberta Sargent, Natylum Bratton, Carrie Leach, Beatrice Bolin, Doris Mode, Ruth Hughes, Marie Smarr, Lula Reid, Mozelle Darby, Margaret Smith, Adelle Feemster, Jerry and Lillian Kemp, Mary Lou Cunningham and Corinne Breezley. Together, they have lived more than a thousand years.

And they are not ready to quit living, either.

"This has turned into a sharing experience with a purpose that is just terrific," said Elaine Kershaw, center director. "These people have so much yet to give in their lives. This is a way to give."

Mozelle Darby, 66, described the sewing group as "a happy family."

Knitting and crocheting has become so popular that - unheard of in senior circles - some people crochet and knit during the bingo games.

But the bingo comes and goes. The sick always need help.

Beatrice Bolin, 79, said she and the others are never too old to help out somebody who needs it - be that a child, a senior citizen like herself, or somebody who lost hair with cancer treatments who needs some color to cheer them up.

"Just wait until Christmas," said Bolin. "We will be making hats until then and send them all to people who need one."