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Bringing warmth to thy neighbor: Meet the Billings 'Chain Gang' crocheting friendship one blanket at a time

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Posted at 3:01 PM, Apr 18, 2023

BILLINGS- As nursing homes across Montana remain in crisis due to shortages, one group of ladies in Billings is forming a bond as strong as a chain, all to bring some warmth to their neighbors.

 It all started when an activities leader at St John’s United made a comment about some shabby lap blankets in one of the cottages.

That’s when Selma Matson was hooked.

“So we made 13 lap robes and we already delivered them down there,” she says.

And the lap blankets were a hit.

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Crocheting is time-consuming and tedious, but sometimes just the right thing to do while watching TV or playing Bingo, says Matson.

Soon a group was formed.

“There’s about eight of us that took up crocheting a couple of months ago,” she said. “Once you learn, it’s really easy.”

The bond of this group became so strong that they decided to call themselves the “Chain Gang,” and, according to Matson, there’s a good reason for that.

“When you crochet, the first thing you do is create a chain, and we are a gang, so...,” she said. “It has nothing to do with prison.”

The ladies meet regularly, and their mission to bring warmth to their community has only grown. They plan to make more: blankets for every cottage at St John's, blankets for the babies in the nursery, and beanies for the kids too.

All different colors and patterns, made from the heart.

“This community is growing,” said Kristin LaVe, who serves as a chaplain for St. John’s United. She even blessed the giving of the lap blankets.

She says the group is offering new and beautiful activities for their neighbors.

“They were gorgeous, all different colors,” she said.

But she says the gesture does more than keep a lap warm.

“Coming into this place can be a really difficult situation,” said LaVe.

That’s because nursing homes across the state continue to face mounting pressure to stay afloat. Many have closed due to a shortage of workers and low Medicaid reimbursement rates.

But LaVe and Matson agree: for the golden generation, this new chapter of life can come with grief and sometimes a cold dose of loneliness.

“Making something warm and comforting is just another way these ladies have shown they care,” said LaVe.

And in doing so, it connects their community in more ways than one.

“We just wanted to find a need within the community here and there are lots of them,” said Matson.

The Chain Gang says they’re looking for yarn donations to keep their mission going. Anyone who wants to donate can do so by dropping the yarn off at St. John’s United.