FAIRBANKS, Alaska — In Susan Englebrecht's Woodriver Elementary School classroom, students sat spread out on the floor, on desks and in chairs — all of them with a pair of knitting needles in hand.
In what started as an afterschool club for beginning knitters, Englebrecht's group has turned into a bunch of talented donors. Students ranging from ages 7 to 12 have been making blankets and teddy bears for a military hospital in Kandahar, Afghanistan since the beginning of this year.
Originally, the items were going to go to an organization called Teddies for Tragedies. The organization sends handmade teddies to kids who have experienced tragic events, like natural disasters. The idea is to relieve stress.
When the club began thinking about people who experience tragic events, they thought of the Middle East.
Dana Horton's 9-year-old daughter, Zoe, had an idea.
"Well, my daddy's over there, maybe he can help."
Her dad, Air Force Tech Sgt. Eric Horton from the 75th Expeditionary Fighter Squadron, was based in Afghanistan at the time.
"We told him what the kids were doing — It was his idea," Dana said. "We took it and ran with it."
The students got to work knitting the teddy bears. By the end of the school year, they will have made 13 teddies and two blankets.
Bonnie Marsh was recruited by Englebrecht to teach the students to knit. Although not a teacher, Marsh has been knitting since she was 8 years old. When the students had all made knit squares, she collected them and crocheted around them to complete blankets.
She also helped the kids with their teddy bear projects. The teddies look more like cats or puppies according to whom one talks to, but that's fine by Marsh.
"They're just something to hug," she said.
The Teddies for Tragedies idea remains — the soldiers and patients who receive the gifts will know someone made their present. They will know someone was thinking of them and cares for them.
On May 3, the afterschool club was presented with an American flag, sent by Eric while in Georgia where his squadron is based. The flag was flown on an A-10 aircraft during Operation Enduring Freedom on March 6. It was the squadron's way of expressing their appreciation for the knitting club's efforts.
As Dana presented the flag with principal Jeff Mann's help, she told the kids, "You're going to really put a smile on their faces."
Information from: Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, http://www.newsminer.com