When a coworker told Boulder Bluff Elementary School art teacher Carolyn Mullinax about the knitting ministry at her church back home, Mullinax thought it sounded like something she wanted to be involved in.
And soon after she bought her first loom and learned to knit hats on it, she realized she could involve her students, too.
"The looms make it child-friendly," she said.
Instead of knitting needles, the students use Knifty Knitter Looms, plastic rings with pegs that make the process nearly fail-proof.
Mullinax didn't just want to teach the kids to knit, though. She wanted to turn it into a community service project.
Catherine Beltran told Mullinax her church sends hats overseas, but Mullinax wanted something a little closer to home.
"I wanted to give back to the community," she said. "I wanted the kids to have a connection back to their environment, but I wanted a charity that does not get as much recognition as some of the others."
Her after-school knitting club has turned into Looms of Love, a project to provide warmth to the women and children at My Sister's House, a local nonprofit that provides services, programs and resources to victims of domestic violence and their children.
"It was the perfect fit," Mullinax said.
About 30 students in third through fifth grades meet with Mullinax, teachers Victoria Groves and Stephanie Rose and guidance counselor Kristie Ragos for an hour after school every Tuesday to create the colorful hats in three different sizes.
In November they gave 50 hats to My Sister's House and they are about halfway to their second 50-hat delivery. Mullinax said she also is looking for other charities or organizations that could use the hats, such as nursing homes.
"I started doing it because I wanted to help the community," said fourth-grader Makayla Greene. Her grandmother once tried to teach her to knit, but "this is much easier than that," she said.
Fifth-grader Chase Cauthan said some of his classmates think it's an odd hobby to participate in, "but I like it so I don't care."
The project was started with some of a $3,870 Arts Based Curriculum Grant funded through the South Carolina Arts Commission and a $75 donation from Walmart. The looms were a one-time purchase but yarn is an ongoing need.
The students do not pay to participate. Boulder Bluff, which has 850 students, is a Title I school, part of the federally funded program that provides money to schools for students at risk of failure and living at or near poverty.
"It was open to all students, but they had to write a paragraph about what it would mean to them to participate," Mullinax said. "The original plan was to take 20 students, but we wound up with a total of 30."
Since then, one student has moved away and a couple of others have dropped out because of grades or transportation problems. Mullinax said she has a waiting list of students who want to join.
The knitting bug has even spread to many of the students' houses. They bring in projects they have completed at home, and a few even have parents or siblings who have joined in.
The program will continue as long as there is a need for warmth, Mullinax said. She even hopes to branch out soon into making scarves to go with the hats.