The Boston Marathon Scarf Project originated when members of Boston’s Old South Church, located about 100 feet from where bombs went off on April 15, 2013, decided to knit scarves to hand out to survivors, athletes and first responders on the first anniversary of that fateful day.
The venture struck a deep chord with several women from Maine who ran and volunteered in the 2014 Boston Marathon, prompting them to start a similar project for the Maine Cancer Foundation’s Tri for a Cure.
“After we received the scarves it was almost an automatic thought,” said Julie Marchese, who ran in the 2014 Boston Marathon and is one of the founders of Tri for a Cure and the Portland-based training club, sheJAMs. “We can do this. What a great way to thank all the women of Tri for A Cure for raising so much money for a great cause.”
Formed five years ago, sheJAMs offers swimming, biking, running and strength training programs that bring women together to work out, train and have fun. The club is also one of the sponsors of the Tri for a Cure triathlon in South Portland on July 26.
Melissa Allen, a member of sheJAMs, ran the Boston Marathon this year and in 2014 with Marchese. Like Marchese, she was impressed by the scarf project in Boston, although she didn’t receive one on race day because she was late getting to registration.
“It was amazing. Groups of people from all over the world began knitting blue and gold scarves in honor of the victims of the bombing,” said Allen. “During the race Julie and I stopped for water at a stop where Kate, a friend of Julie’s who I didn’t know at the time, was volunteering. She asked me, ‘Did you get a scarf?’ I explained that I hadn’t. Two days later I received a scarf that Kate had knitted for me. I was so touched by that and thought, we have to do this for Tri. It felt like a huge hug getting the scarf.”
Members of sheJAMs not only support each other as they work toward personal goals, but are also committed to giving back to the community. So when Marchese, Allen and Kate Kelly worked together to establish the Stitch out Cancer Pink and White Scarf Project for Tri for a Cure participants, it came as no surprise that fellow club members were eager to help.
“All of us at sheJAMs are involved,” said Marchese. “We are making scarfs, recruiting people to knit, or volunteering. Why not? It is fun!”
The Stitch out Cancer Pink and White Scarf Project began with a simple request on the sheJAMs website: “Make a pink and white scarf, make it your own, no pattern needed – just make it from love, and honor someone you know who has had cancer or going through cancer now. Please let us know who you are and who you made the scarf in honor of. We will donate it to one of the 1,400 participants in the 8th Annual Tri for a Cure.”
Members of sheJAMs also spread the word.
“I hosted a knitting party at my house and I had never knitted,” said Allen. “Kate hosted parties, too. We went to talk to some church and library groups.”
Kelly wanted to get as many people as involved as she could.
“I’ve held lots of knitting classes, posted the flyer or carried one everywhere I went and truly gave the term ‘pass it on’ a whole new meaning. To watch my young neighbor kids getting involved meant a lot to me,” said Kelly, who is an executive assistant to one of Hannaford’s vice presidents. “A young neighbor boy and friend, ages 8 and 9, came to my house on Thursday nights to learn and knit. Other neighbor girls ages 9 through 12 tagged over 100 scarfs to be involved (in the project).”
Allen, a retired teacher who counsels two days a week, splitting her time between the Maine Correctional Center and the women’s re-entry program in Alfred, brought the project to inmates.
“We spoke to 200 women at the prison about this chance to help and give back,” said Allen. “Within a short time we had 300-plus scarves from them. Women are also knitting at the re-entry program. They have all knitted the most beautiful scarves.”
Kelly said the project has helped many “young, old, busy, not busy knitters and crotcheters to have a purpose, and to help loved ones know that we are thinking of them and they are not forgotten. To see the heartfelt written notes on the scarfs that recipients will be receiving will be very emotional. I look forward to a volunteer giving me mine.”
Allen said the project is a combination of raising awareness about cancer and thanking the people that take part in the triathlon.
“I remember the good feeling of getting the scarf (after the Boston Marathon),” said Allen. “It’s a feeling of being included. Handing out scarves at Tri for a Cure gives us a chance to thank everyone for their participation and for raising money for cancer research.”
Allen will be one of those participating. This year will be her fourth triathlon.
“I’ll wear a scarf on race day. I was a swimmer and a runner before I did this but had never done a triathlon,” said Allen, 55. “If I can do it, anyone can. My mom ran last year at age 77. It’s all about putting one foot in front of the other.”
The scarves will be given to participants prior to the race on Expo Day, held this year on July 25 at the Southern Maine Community College campus, outside the culinary arts building.
“We will be giving a prize to the best finish line picture with the scarf on,” said Marchese, “and will give someone a sheJAMs bike shirt.”
Kelly said the plan is to have a scarf for all triathletes that participate in the Tri for a Cure. Although that number is around 1,400, the group set a goal of 2,500 scarves, which was met by mid-June.
Although most of the scarves that have come in are from Maine, knitters from many other states, as well as Canada and the United Kingdom, have sent in contributions.
Not all of the donations have been in the form of finished scarves.
Marcia Feller of Couleur Collection in Falmouth and sheJAMs has been helping the project move forward by providing funds to buy yarn for those who can’t afford to purchase it but want to knit scarves.
According to Allen, Feller is also hosting an exhibition in July at her Falmouth store, which will display artwork and some of the scarves, along with several of Feller’s own paintings featuring athletes who have participated in Tri for a Cure.
And Allen’s husband, who runs a printing company, makes the tags that are attached to each scarf which list who the scarf honors and the name of the knitter or crotcheter.
Why do the women think the Stitch Out Cancer project has received such an overwhelming response?
“People are wanting to give back,” said Marchese. “To knit with intention for someone they are honoring that is living with cancer or someone that has passed from cancer seems to be good therapy. Each person who has knit a scarf has honored someone they love. For me, it is honoring loved ones while thanking those who have persevered.”
For Allen, it’s all about thinking and doing with intention.
“These are stitches of love. You have someone in mind while you’re making a scarf,” she said. “It’s a relaxing time, breathing, meditating, making something in their honor.”
And what about next year? Will the project continue?
Allen said she saw the project as a “well-oiled machine at this point” and hopes to continue. Marchese is not sure where the project will take sheJAMs, but plans to “sit down after the triathlon and discuss what is next.”
Whatever the future holds for Stitch Out Cancer, for Kelly the experience has been a meaningful one.
“Every scarf that I have knitted was in honor of someone that I knew. It made me realize how affected we all are by this disease,” said Kelly. “Every scarf and every stich was made with love, compassion and heartfelt emotion. It was truly an honor for me to let someone know that I was thinking of them and their loved ones. My knitting will never be the same after this project.”
Marshwood Adult Education is one of the many groups that have come together to knit for Stitch Out Cancer. The first “knitting party” was held at the home of Melissa Allen. One of the scarves knit by Kate Kelly. All of the scarves have a tag that provides information about the project, including who the scarf honors and the name of the person who knit the scarf. Courtesy photosMembers of sheJAMs, a Portland based-club that brings women together to work out, train and get fit, model some of the scarves that have been received through the group’s “Stitch Out Cancer” project. Each participant in the upcoming Tri for a Cure triathlon will receive a scarf. Members pictured are, from left, in front, Julie Jordan Marchese; second row, Melissa Allen, left, Nancy Goldstein and Marcia Feller; back row: Gayle Hichborn. Photo courtesy of sheJAMs