Of the Baker City Herald

Voluntarism in Baker County is a little like the Mississippi River: its a mile wide.

Area churches, social service agencies, schools and service clubs count on hundreds of volunteers to do everything from delivering meals to seniors to stocking shelves at a thrift store to working at area museums.

This week the organizations that rely on this giving celebrated National Volunteer Week. In the process, a group of 16 students from Baker High School has discovered that they, too, have something valuable to offer even when theyre just completing a class assignment.

The 16 girls enrolled in Gere Richardsons Clothing Construction class at Baker High School recently sewed a fleece blankets that will be shipped this weekend to an orphanage in the Russian Republic. The connection with The Blankie Project comes from science and mathematics teacher Gundula ONeal, who herself is in the process of adopting a Russian child.

Last year, ONeal visited what the Russians call Baby Home Number 1 in Voronezh, a city of one million people 400 miles south of Moscow. There she saw children under the age of 4 who slept in long rows of cribs, played on rickety old swingsets, and ate three meals a day of thin vegetable broth breakfast, lunch and dinner.

It wasnt totally a bad place, ONeal said. The caregivers are very caring, and I was impressed with the director.

Under the ravaged Russian economy, some of the caregivers had gone several months without being paid, and yet they remained in their government-sponsored jobs, ONeal said.

The childrens day-to-day needs are taken care of by the orphanage, she said, but what they lack is even the most rudimentary personal items. Thats why ONeal and Richardson chose personalized fleece blankets, each sewed with a different ribbon around the perimeter.

I thought the students were very enthusiastic about the project, ONeal said. They had a lot of good questions about the conditions we found in the orphanage.

Students said their desire to get the blankets done went beyond earning a good grade from their teacher.

We thought that sewing these blankets would give the kids something they could hold onto, said junior Summer Golden. Every little kid needs a blankie. In fact, I still have mine.

On Friday morning Richardson was taking digital photographs of each student with her blanket. A photograph will be pinned to each blanket to give each orphan a face to connect with his or her blanket.

The students were very taken with the fact that these blankets are going to orphans who have nothing. I thought it was a good thing for them to do, Richardson said. One of them suggested that we make blankets for each of the kids.

That might be a big job. According to ONeal, the Russian Republic itself has an estimated 600,000 orphans.

Actually, a majority arent orphans, ONeal said. Many of them have parents who cant care for them.

For more information on The Blankie Project, visit this website: