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Closely Knit

For Erma Stordahl, knitting is nothing more than knit, purl, knit, purl.

“That’s all it takes,” says Erma matter-of-factly. The 82-year-old sits in her rocking chair in her Moorhead home knitting a green-and-white striped baby cap. She makes it look effortless.

For decades, Erma’s talented hands have created hundreds of sweaters, afghans, Christmas stockings and more for family and friends. But there’s one very large group of people whose lives she’s touched, and she’s never even met them.

Since the early 1970s, Erma has knit more than 6000 caps for newborns at Sanford Family Birth Center.

“It’s just knitting,” she says, shrugging her shoulders and shying away from attention. But her 24,000 hours as a volunteer have indeed attracted attention.

Knit with love

Thanks to the quiet, steady work of Erma and more than 20 volunteer knitters, every baby born at Sanford Family Birth Center receives a hand-knit baby cap. That’s approximately 200 a month.

"These knitters have no idea how much their gift is appreciated,” says Janet Drechsel, director of Sanford’s Women’s Services (link here). “The experience of childbirth is a story that’s recounted numerous times in a family’s life. These hand-knit caps become a treasured keepsake in that cherished story. When you hold one of these caps in your hand, you can’t help but think someone cared enough to knit this. I like to think every cap is made with love.”

For most of the year, parents of newborns choose between pink-and-white or blue-and- white caps. But during the holiday season, they have additional choices: red-and-white or green-and-white.

Erma is the sole knitter of the holiday caps. Already she’s completed 30 for the 2013 holiday season. After she reaches her goal of 200, she’ll help out with the traditional pink and blue. Sanford provides the safety-approved yarn.

Ray, her husband of 63 years, gets involved, too. “His job is the pom-poms,” she says. “My knitting keeps both of us busy.”

Serving others

Erma began volunteering in the 1960s when her youngest of three sons started school. Then, she was a patient escort. Years later she added knitting. She’s also served in the Intensive Care Unit, assisting families and making them feel comfortable.

“Erma is one of those quiet souls who go about their work wanting no recognition or gratitude,” says Mary Stenson, director of Volunteer Services. “Like so many who volunteer here at Sanford, she simply wants to give.”

Erma is one of 589 volunteers at Sanford in Fargo. Ranging in age from 17 to 90, they put their talents to work in several areas, averaging approximately four hours a week.

“We take the time to get to know potential volunteers because a good fit is essential,” says Mary. “Volunteering at Sanford focuses on touching the lives of patients and families, and there are many, many ways to do that.”

Binding it all together

On Dec. 20, 2012, Erma reached a milestone. For the first time she got to see one of her hand-knit caps on a newborn. She visited the Family Birth Center and placed a green-and-white cap on Daniel Alm, son of Rachel and Daniel.

“He was sure a cute little baby,” says Erma. “I’ve always wondered if those caps fit. I was glad to see it fit him well.”

The team at the Family Birth Center discovered something, too. “They finally got to meet the ‘elf in the closet’ – that knitter who makes all the holiday caps,” says Janet. “It was a privilege.”

Learn more

If you’d like to learn more about volunteering at Sanford, visit Volunteer Opportunities.

If you’d like a closer look at the personalized birth experience at Sanford, take a virtual tour at Sanford Family Birth Center.

Posted Date: February 2013