Happy hats
The Happy Hats pause for a photo. On the floor, Cynthia Burnham and Pam Abel. On the couch from left are Karin Simon, Debbie Nansen, Rita Goshert, Jane Heller and Merrill Bee. Mary Clements is holding the card.

According to Mother Theresa, “Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love.”

In 2018, 12 Long Beach women began doing “small things” in a big way, sewing colorful caps for the 150 youngsters who face surgery each week at MemorialCare Miller Children’s & Women’s Hospital. Over the past three years, Happy Hats by Helping Hands has made surgical hats at an impressive rate. Last week, the group celebrated an enormous milestone: 10,000 hats.

“Making 10,000 hats is quite the accomplishment, and it takes many of us to cut, sew, assemble, wash and deliver them,” group member Merrill Bee said. “I’m very proud and grateful to be a part of this group.”

Member Jane Heller said that each time she sees a stack of 100 caps, it reminds her of all of the children who need surgery.

“To know that 10,000 kids have had surgery is beyond comprehension to me,” Heller said. “These caps help just a tad to relax them. That gives me comfort knowing I am doing something.”

Rita Goshert, director of the Cherese Mari Laulhere Child Life Program at MemorialCare, said the hats have made a big difference at the hospital.

“When a child has to have surgery, it’s a very scary time for a family,” Goshert said “These hats lighten the mood and make everyone more comfortable. When nervous children choose a fabric pattern, their whole demeanor changes.”

The idea for Happy Hats came from Mary Clements. Hoping to encourage children with medical issues, Clements used the Nextdoor app to find like-minded neighbors.

These caring women produce a plethora of hats, with zero waste. Large leftover fabric pieces are turned into pajama pants for patients. Smaller sections are given to a quilting group or used to make doll-sized hats for young patients. Member Pam Abel takes tiny scraps to stuff the dog beds she makes for animal shelters.

Fabric donation dropped in 2020, but Heller rose to the occasion.

“Janie wrote letters to fabric companies and posted on Nextdoor that we needed donations,” Clements said. “We are continually looking for donations. Without them, we couldn't exist.”

Normally, the women work on their own, cutting and sewing elastic around the vibrant fabric caps. Once a month, they meet to socialize and sew by hand together. That process changed in 2020; during the pandemic, the members kept sewing but they gathered less often.

“There were no meetings in November, December or January,” Clements said. “We planned the 10,000-hat celebration for February. Couldn't let this go by without getting together. I am so proud of these ladies. They have given their time, money, expertise, but mostly their friendship. For that, I am the winner!”

The group invited Goshert to join their celebration on Feb. 24.

“Making 10,000 hats is huge,” Goshert said. “This group is just amazing. I’m excited to meet them and thank them in person.”

To donate fabric or join the Happy Hats, send an email to mb3001@msn.com.

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