For nearly 50 years, a creative group of ladies has met twice weekly to laugh, chat and craft sweaters, scarves, baby blankets, washcloths and slippers.
There’s even something called “chest warmers,” small crocheted, knitted or quilted squares used by Southeast Valley hospice providers to keep patients’ trunks cozy.
The Tempe Needlewielders, as they’re known, meet at Pyle Adult Recreation Center from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Tuesdays and Thursdays. With nearly 100 members, the group is a powerhouse of needles and neighbors.
“Everything we do is for charity. We give everything away to non-profit groups,” said Mary Lou Del Vecchio, president of the Board. “We also sell some of our items, and the money from those sales goes directly back to the community.”
Del Vecchio is referring to the group’s once-a-year fundraiser, a craft sale that this year is Friday, Oct. 22, and Saturday, Oct. 23.
After 50 years, all but one of the original Tempe Needlewielders has passed on.
“I can crochet but there are a lot of other people who crochet, so I sew,” said Laura Reisinger, who sews for the group.
Reisinger joined the group years ago after being told she was needed.
“My mother was active for 20 years and she was 93,” Reisinger said. “When she left, my sister and I would come and visit the ladies because we knew them after bringing my mom to the group. They said, ‘Come join us. We need your hands. We need you to replace your mom’s hands.’
“And so we did.”
All during the pandemic, the group continued to stitch, knit and crochet. They made more than 3,000 face masks and then sold them.
Monies raised were given to local food banks.
Peggy Short echoed the sentiments of many Needlwielders.
“I think for each one of us, we really love creating something,” Short said. “And you can only make so many things for your family.”
One family can use only so many afghans, but the desire to create and comfort continues.
“So this really satisfies that need to be creative and then also the need to be helpful within the community,” Short said.
One woman used to come to Pyle Adult Recreation Center but then lost her vision. She’s in a care center but still crocheting using a device that guides her on color.
Then there’s the fun and friendships that burgeon over a shared pile of fabric.
Martha Kasapis joined in 2002 and has been sitting with her friend ever since.
She was stitching a 100 percent cotton washcloth.
“We started the same day and we’ve been sitting together ever since, Kasapis said.
“Usually, once a month we will have an activity like a pizza party or a potluck. Something. And we play Bingo once a month,” Del Vecchio said.
“We play a quarter a card. You can play as many as you like, and everyone wins. We have no losers. Everyone in the group walks out with a little something on Bingo day.”
Before COVID, the ladies brought snacks. They’ve all been vaccinated but they wear masks, so snacking has been discontinued for now.
Prior to the pandemic, about 40 ladies showed up on Thursdays to work. Due to COVID and the summer travel months, the numbers are a bit down. Still, the ladies continue to meet. They haven’t lost any members to COVID.
The yarn and fabric they use is all donated.
The Tempe Needlewielders serve about 30 charities in the area, including Chemo Companions, Maggie’s Place and Treasures for Teachers, among others.