- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 3, 2016

LARAMIE, Wyo. (AP) - Working in shades of pink, blue, cream and purple - their fingers twirling, their needles tapping softly - a dozen or so knitters met on a Saturday afternoon in January to turn skeins of yarn into colorful gifts for people a world away from downtown Laramie.

Working at Cowgirl Yarn, the group assembled to knit items for refugees on the Greek island Lesbos.

The island is at the heart of the refugee crisis engulfing Europe, with an estimated 450,000 refugees and migrants from Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere passing through the island in 2015 on their way from Turkey into Europe.

Most make the 6-mile trip across the Aegean Sea on overcrowded dinghies captained by smugglers. In 2015, dozens of boats arrived on some days, while stories of men, women and children drowning have become routine. Those who arrive safely are exhausted, wet and terrified.

“It’s heart-wrenching,” said Nancy Weidel, who organized the knitting group.

A few months ago, Nancy Weidel came across the website for a Seattle, Washington-based organization called Salaam Cultural Museum, which is working to support Syrians who have fled their war-torn country.

Volunteers from the organization are now working in Lesbos, and the group planned to send a shipping container filled with humanitarian goods, including hand-knit items, in February.

Knitters from around the world have been contributing their creations.

Nancy Weidel decided to join the effort, and she organized the knitting day together with Cowgirl Yarn owner Lori Kirk, who advertised the event to other local knitters.

Nancy Weidel said wool yarn is necessary because the natural material retains body heat even when it’s wet, and it’s flame-resistant. That’s ideal for people living outside and cooking on open fires.

“They are wet all the time, and they’re living in these camps that are just mud,” she said.

Nancy said her focus is on items for children, such as hats, blankets, sweaters and socks.

“It’s a tragedy to me that these tiny little ones have nothing,” she said.

Nancy Weidel’s sister, Susan Weidel, joined the effort and said she’s received extensive support from social network connections that reach around the country.

“I’ve just been amazed at all the people around the country who have opened their hearts and started knitting,” Susan Weidel said.

She’s been knitting hats for small children, and as she loops her thread into thousands of stitches, she thinks about the child thousands of miles away that will someday wear the item she holds in her hands.

“There’s something almost spiritual when you’re knitting,” she said.

Julie Radosevich said knitting was a tangible response to the helplessness she feels in response to the overwhelming needs of so many people.

“How can we not do something?” she asked.

Susan Weidel said she hopes to organize more knitting days in the future.

“It’s inspiring,” she said.

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Information from: Laramie Boomerang, https://www.laramieboomerang.com

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