Yarn brigade envelops South Greensburg

Linda Shooks of South Greensburg jokes with another volunteer as she stitches a yarn blanket to a fence along Huff Avenue in South Greensburg on Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Linda Shooks of South Greensburg jokes with another volunteer as she stitches a yarn blanket to a fence along Huff Avenue in South Greensburg on Thursday, July 24, 2014.
Photo by Brian F. Henry | Trib Total Media
| Thursday, July 31, 2014, 3:16 p.m.

A quiet storm has settled over South Greensburg.

An explosion of fabric and color drapes fences, concrete pillars, street lamp posts, trees and shrubs along Huff Avenue, a main artery connecting the borough's Broad Street with Route 119.

The campaign being waged by Stephanie Sopko's designated “yarn troopers” is the most visible portion of a community project initiated 10 months ago.

“Knit Our Community Together,” the official name of the project, was a mere seedling of an idea when Sopko, affectionately called “Commander Stephanie” by the yarn troopers, encountered a community tree decorating project in a Virginia town while surfing on Bing June 13, 2013.

Sopko's first impression was that it “looked as though Dr. Seuss had thrown up.”

After some preliminary discussion with colleague Mary Ellen Tiberio at Mental Health America's Westmoreland chapter, at the corner of Coulter and Elm streets in South Greensburg, the two envisioned a community knitting project to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Mental Health America and to promote awareness for mental health.

Executive director Laurie Barnett Levine took the idea to a committee of the agency's board and the campaign to knit people and community together was launched last September.

Sopko and her colleagues first considered decorating only South Greensburg's Tiny Tots Playground, a facility that is close to the heart of Mayor Betty Dobies.

After an initial donation of $70 and 17 bags of yarn by an angel from Apollo, the sky became the limit.

Troopers joined by the hundreds. Many met to knit and crochet together on Thursday evenings, sometimes at the agency headquarters and often at the DV8 coffeehouse and art gallery on South Pennsylvania Avenue in Greensburg.

“Nobody ever told me ‘no,'” Sopko said of her troopers.

Linda Shooks of South Greensburg symbolizes the infantry-like dedication of the troopers who “knitted up a storm.” Kathie Nelson of Forest Hills, a veteran of last summer's “Knit the Bridge” campaign in Pittsburgh, attended a few Thursday night encampments and delivered more of her own knitting. Nelson's mother and sister helped to sew sea creature doo-dads onto a crocheted, blue-ocean backing on a recent visit to home in Keene, N.H.

“Knifty Knitters,” representing Adams Memorial Library in Latrobe, along with troopers from the public library in Mt. Pleasant, joined the yarn brigade.

Five women from Golden Heights Personal Care Home in Irwin custom-fitted the Huff Station Park gazebo with fluffy Steeler black and gold.

Other locations touched by the hands of the yarn troopers are The First National Bank branch and the Dunkin' Donuts on Huff Avenue, See Spot Run dog grooming and day care center along Route 119, along with Art's Barber Shop and Kleimer's Service Station on Broad Street. Additional displays can be seen at Studio II, The Hair People, Mental Health America and St. Bruno Parish in South Greensburg. Even fencing along the Five Star Bike Trail is dressed for the occasion.

“It's about community coming together,“ Sopko said.

After the colorful work is taken down on Monday, all items will be laundered and “we will pass these blessed pieces on to warm others,” she said.

The soft heads of infants in local hospitals will be warmed by knitted caps, and sweaters will hug shivering shelter animals. Patchwork afghans and throws in all the rainbow colors will make their way to nursing home residents and veterans, as well as to the homeless.

The project of community love will have come full circle.

Dave Knoepfle is a contributing writer for Trib Total Media.

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