Everyone Deserves a Clean Start
Washcloths for Wellness helps give dignity to homeless with washcloths.
By Crystal Schelle
When you’re homeless, even the simplest of things matter, such as a clean washcloth. “Everyone deserves a clean start,” said Denise Kelly, founder of Washcloths for Wellness.
Combining her love of crochet and the need to give back, Kelly of Hagerstown has been putting handmade washcloths into the hands of those who could need a reminder that someone is thinking about them. That’s why Kelly founded Washcloths for Wellness.
Kelly, 56, has been crocheting since she was 16. Over the years, she’s made 100% cotton washcloths, which have been popular with friends and family.
“So I started making an abundant amount of them,” she said, noting that they are some of her favorite things to make.
That’s when Kelly wondered what she might do with the extra washcloths. In particular, she wondered if she could hand them out to people in Washington County who need them.
For several years, Kelly began meeting every Wednesday evening and Thursday morning with five other ladies for a knitting group. They continued the group via Zoom when the pandemic hit. It was during that time that she reached out to the members to see if they might help her make some of the washcloths to donate to local charities.
“Then I thought, ‘You know what? I’m going to try to start a nonprofit,’” said Kelly, who works as a bookkeeper for Rest Haven Funeral Home. She credits her parents for instilling in her a need to give to others.
In 2020, she launched Washcloths for Wellness. To search for volunteers, she first placed ads in the area, including in church bulletins.
“And that’s when people just started saying, ‘How can I help?’” she said.
Some churches have donated money to help Kelly with expenses such as yarn, which have helped supply her volunteers with materials.
“I started putting the kits together where I give each person a bag of 12 balls of yarn,” Kelly said.
Once the washcloths are finished, they are placed inside resealable baggies for distribution. That way, Kelly said, if the washcloth is still wet, it can be put in the baggie and not get anything else wet. In addition to the washcloths, Kelly said they also place a small bar of soap inside the bag.
“We lovingly knit and crochet each one for each individual person,” she said. “And they’re all different colors. They’re all different styles. It’s been fun packing them up and looking at all of them and knowing that every single one was handmade.”
From that small group of women helping her, Kelly said she has between 15 and 20 volunteers making the washcloths.
Linda Sappington has been helping Kelly with Washcloths for Wellness. At first, Kelly said, Sappington, who works as a church secretary, began helping with producing some washcloths. Kelly said Sappington has been able to connect her nonprofit with other organizations. For instance, through one connection, the Smile Design Center donated 300 toothbrushes and tubes of toothpaste to be included in the care packages.
Sappington, of Hagerstown, said she found a blurb about Washcloths for Wellness in the Hagerstown Area Religious Council (HARC) newsletter.
“The idea intrigued me. I enjoy handwork, especially when listening to music or watching TV. I contacted the group immediately,” she said. “Denise showed up at my work door when my shift ended with materials in hand.”
She said she distributed some of the materials to those at John Wesley United Methodist Church. Within two weeks, they had 48 completed washcloth kits and about an extra dozen of washcloths. She dropped those off to Kelly for more materials, and the back and forth continued for months.
Since the summer, Sappington has helped Kelly with completing and distributing kits.
“What a blessing this has been for me,” she said. “I love to talk with the folks who will distribute the washcloth kits to folks in the Hagerstown area. They are so committed to their ministry population. They are so grateful to have a concrete way of sharing hope, kindness, and smiles with folks. This empowers me to keep on showing up.”
As of early December 2022, Washcloths for Wellness has distributed 2,156 washcloth kits throughout Washington County. The kits are given to nonprofits such as Reach of Washington County, the Salvation Army, It’s A Blessing to Be A Blessing, Holly Place, Soul Haven Wellness and Recovery Center, and Sheppard Pratt, to name just a few.
In addition, she has given kits to St. Mark’s Community Food Bank, TLC Food Bank by Trinity Lutheran Church, as well as to Washington County Health Department and United Way of Washington County.
“It’s because of this group of dedicated people who like to knit and crotchet that we can do this,” Kelly said.
Kelly said she’s been able to meet some of the people who have received the packages. Once was when she was delivering some kits at Sheppard Pratt in Hagerstown. She was approached by a young man who asked if she was the one who crocheted the washcloths. She told him that she did, along with other volunteers.
“He said, ‘I just want to tell you, your washcloths make me feel so good. My grandmother used to do these,’ and he said it brought back such great memories of her and that he loved the washcloths so much,” Kelly recalled. “… it touched me that he felt that way.”
That’s why she does it, she said.
“When something as simple as a washcloth can bring memories like that back, we can definitely help anybody,” she said.
Through this journey, Kelly said she’s met so many nice people who are willing to donate time or money to continue her mission. She said she would eventually like to see her nonprofit expand past the borders of Washington County. And, she said, she is always looking for more volunteers to help her continue her mission.
“It started out with one little washcloth, and now it’s blossomed into this,” she said.
For more information on Washcloths for Wellness and to find out how to get involved, go to https://washclothsforwellness.com/.