• Walt Disney World's Blanketeers sew for the common good

    By: GABRIELLE RUSSON, Orlando Sentinel

    Updated:
    ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - They work for The Mouse, but since they spend countless hours crafting, they are dubbed the Blanketeers.

    It started out small.

    A few Disney World employees decided to use their talents for charity in 2007, following an initiative started by their Walt Disney Co. colleagues at Disneyland.

    They knit hats that fit into the palm of a hand, small enough for a premature baby in an incubator at the hospital. They handmade dog beds for the pets in animal shelters, waiting to be adopted. They crafted hats to comfort cancer patients.

    The knitters grew by word-of-mouth to include about 80 people.

    Some Blanketeers take lunch breaks together every week to do their craft. Others squeeze it in whenever there's a spare moment at home - such as Beatriz Florence, a zookeeper at Animal Kingdom who works 10-hour shifts and then takes care of two children.

    "It's relaxing," says Florence, 38, of Kissimmee, who can forget about the stresses of her job, like worrying about a sick gorilla.

    She braids a dog toy made out of donated company employee T-shirts with outdated logos.

    "There's a lot of people who know how to crochet," says Sabine Jeunette, a Disney administrative assistant from Clermont.

    And sew. Or knit. Or braid. Or tie knots. Or quilt.

    There must be some standards - "We don't glue," says Kate St. Germain, of Winter Garden, who works in merchandise at Epcot and volunteered 150 hours in one year alone with the Blanketeers.

    Albert Intenzo, who works in information technology, doesn't mind being the only man in the room on a recent lunch break in a Disney conference room.

    "I enjoy doing this stuff at home," Intenzo says, hoping to teach his 11-year-old son someday.

    The Winter Garden resident proudly holds up a quilted blanket that took hours to assemble and points to three squares that contained unmistakable Mickey Mouse ears. It's the ultimate Hidden Mickey.

    At a company that's the largest employer in Orlando County, unsurprisingly, the Blanketeers excelled at mass producing. In 2017, they crafted 8,500 items that were shipped mostly to Central Florida charities. Pulse nightclub shooting victims and first-responders received quilts with hearts from the group.

    In December, a shipment of several hundred little hats arrived for babies in the intensive care nursery, said Linda Sutherland, executive director of Healthy Start Coalition of Orange County.

    Many of the moms from low-income backgrounds don't have much family support, which is why the Blanketeers' gifts meant so much, Sutherland said.

    "The moms are just tickled to get something like that," she said. "Something homemade signifies love and caring for them."

    Jeunette says she thinks of the little child who will someday sleep in her pale pink blanket as she crochets it.

    "Mom's going to appreciate it," Jeunette says quietly as she keeps on working.

    ___

    Information from: Orlando Sentinel, http://www.orlandosentinel.com/

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