KANSAS CITY, Mo. — It's rare to see Joni Brown without crochet hooks and yarn in her hand.
"There are actual mornings where I wake up and I think, 'I can't wait to crotchet,'" Brown said. "You know, brush my teeth, get dressed and just start crocheting."
It's been a hobby of hers for the past 54 years.
"When I was in college, someone taught me how to do it so I could earn a little extra money," Brown said.
Now, she does it for free to provide something warm and handmade for children in need.
"I just feel a sense of purpose in wanting to give back and it just is comfortable for me," Brown said.
Those children are a part of Operation School Bell, a program under the Assistance League of Kansas City, that provides clothing and assistance for children in need in the metro.
"I think it was about the time I was retired in 2005, and I knew a lot of my coworkers were volunteering here," Brown said. "I also knew the people I had in the classroom at the time at Park Hill. A lot of them were coming here for assistance, and it just kind of pulled me in."
Over the past 19 years, Brown has crocheted somewhere between 10,000 and 20,000 scarves for Operation School Bell.
"And every once in a while, I'll see one at a restaurant or a grocery store," Brown said. "I recognize my scarves and it makes me smile to know they still have the scarf and it means something to them."
It means something to the Assistance League of Kansas City, too.
The organization recently awarded Brown with the National Operation School Bell Award for her work, an honor that's only been presented two other times in the chapter's 35-year history.
"I was just completely surprised," Brown said. "After the last two years of what everybody's been through, not just me, it's nice to have something good to focus on. And when I do the scarves, I feel good about myself, I feel good about helping other people."
She's crocheting the gift of warmth for thousands of children in the greater Kansas City community.
"Just knowing that what I'm doing is going to make somebody else feel warmer and feel better, and hopefully special and somebody cares for them when sometimes they feel like no one cares for them...I just want them to know that there are people who always will care about them," Brown said.
She buys her yarn from different places, including the Assistance League's ReSALE shop next to Operation School Bell. She's also received several donations from people in the community who hear about the scarves she creates for the organization.
This year alone, Brown has made 700 scarves for Operation School Bell. She says she plans on crocheting as many as she can as long as she's able to.
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