AS GALEFORCE winds ripped through the Hunter this week, and winter made its snow-inducing entrance, many Novocastrians took the opportunity to rug up in front of the heater with a cup of Earl Grey - or something a bit stronger.
But somewhere safe to nestle up in a warm blanket isn't an option for many in the region. That's where the generous skills of 75-year-old Sue Bardsley come into play.
In 2020, Ms Bardsley and fellow retiree Tonee Holley Knowles started their charity Warm Blankets for Everyone (WBFE).
Working out of Belmont with organisations like West Lakes Women and Children Refuge, Allambi Care and Survivors R Us, WBFE has donated more than 4000 blankets to vulnerable people in the community.
WBFE started after the pair put out a call to members of Eastlakes U3A, where Ms Bardsley is a leader, for fabric donations to make quilts for women's refuges.
They soon realised much of the abundance of donated fabric was too "heavy duty" for quilting so repurposed the unused material for a new charity.
The charity's main service is using donated material to make blankets with polar fleece lining, which they source from a company who makes the fleece from recycled bottles. On top of this, WBFE pass on donated blankets to those in need and have a team of knitters and crochetiers.
"We are sending out several hundred blankets a week and demand is still increasing," Ms Bardsley said. "We send ten a week just to one homeless service and could increase that amount if we had the ability."
Initially working from Ms Bardsley's lounge room, the project has since been given access to a former doctors' surgery by Belmont Baptist Church for their workshop and storage.
Ms Bardsley said that during the pandemic, the more than 70 volunteers had to adapt their service to the community.
"During COVID restrictions, volunteers were picking up prepared blanket kits from our home, ready to sew in their homes," she said on Friday. "It has been a really tragic time for a lot of people and it's heart-breaking to hear the stories of young families living out of their cars.
"We now have one of our teams using the workshop four days a week and today we had two new volunteers join."
With funding from Lake Macquarie Council, Belmont 16s, Amazing Lake Macquarie and government initiatives like the Social Sector Support fund, WBFE has kept up with demand.
However, now the funding is coming to an end, Ms Bardsley is looking to local businesses and residents for support to continue WBFE's work.
"We do need to pay for amenities, machine maintenance, extra materials, and general day-to-day items to keep things running smoothly," she said. "The major cost is polar fleece and without that the blankets would be useless in this weather."
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