Sara Ham knits, gives dozens of hats through Manna Pantry

Sara Ham has given away more than 100 hats through the Manna Pantry in Big Rapids. She knits the hats in the evenings while she watches television. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

BIG RAPIDS — When patrons of the Manna Pantry arrive at the Big Rapids location, they’re there to pick up food because they can’t afford to feed their family.

That’s not a good feeling.

One pantry volunteer spends her evenings creating a little extra comfort to share with patrons. It’s an added touch to warm their hearts — and their heads. Sara Ham, of Big Rapids, knits hats, which she donates to the pantry for distribution.

Using a knitting loom, she spends her television time creating hats to give away.

“I like it because I can stop or start at any time. I don’t have to count stitches or measure — it’s all simple, which is perfect for me,” Ham laughed.

She makes two or three hats a week, using yarn that has been donated to her or she’s purchased at yard sales. While she’s made hats in a variety of sizes, this year she’s focusing on medium hats.

“They seem to fit most everybody,” she said. “I have about 75 hats for this year, but some were left over from last year. I stopped counting this year when I got to 53 or 54.

“I knit all the time. When I go places on weekends, I take my yarn and my hats. It’s something I don’t have to concentrate on very hard, so I knit while I watch TV.”

Ham isn’t the first person to make hats to give away at Manna Pantry.

“We used to have a client from Idlewild who didn’t want to get free food, so when she and her husband came for food, she’d bring a bag of hats. That’s how the pantry started giving out hats,” said Isabel Kempton, former Manna Pantry director and current volunteer.

When the Idlewild woman stopped coming to the pantry, the organization ran out of hats to give away, but that was about the time Ham began knitting, Kempton said.

“The clients have really welcomed the hats, especially for the younger children,” she said. “From my perspective, the hats are a way to keep children warm and safe, and maybe they won’t get colds and have to miss school. I think education is the key to getting yourself out of poverty.”

Sara Ham sorts through the more than 70 hats she has on hand to give to the Manna Pantry for distribution this year. (Pioneer photo/Candy Allan)

Ham was inspired to begin creating hats for the pantry after seeing a fifth-grader profiled on television who was knitting hats for a class project.

“I thought it looked like fun,” Ham said. “I thought if she can do it, I can.”

Giving hats — or any clothing for that matter — isn’t the goal of Manna Pantry, but it’s a nice touch to offer, said Kevin Courtney, Manna Pantry director.

“It’s just a nice, personable touch,” he said. “It’s something somebody made to make you feel better. Who doesn’t like that?

“People who are coming to the pantry are struggling as it is and they’re happy just to get food. When you get a nice little add-on of a handmade hat, it warms the soul.”

Ham’s efforts also have sparked other ideas. The Manna Pantry is housed at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, which has a group of people who gather to knit prayer shawls, Kempton noted.

“The shawl closet is full, so they’ve been knitting mittens to give out through the pantry,” she said. “That’s sort of how one thing inspires another group to do something else.”

For Ham, the hats are a way to occupy time and keep busy while helping the pantry. She estimates she’s given away more than 100 hats through the organization.

“It’s just fun,” she said. “I enjoy putting different colors together. I think it would be neat to see one of my hats walking down the street — it hasn’t happened yet, but it would be neat.”

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Posted by Candy Allan

Candy is the Pioneer's associate editor. She also coordinates the Family & Friends, Religion and Parenting pages. She can be reached by phone at (231) 592-8386 or by e-mail at callan@pioneergroup.com.

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