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"The Hat Lady"
Gretchen Dent
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The History

As we all know, cancer patients undergoing chemotherapy often lose their hair. The patient is faced with the dilemma of how to maintain self-esteem and keep their heads warm with a hat that is soft and comfortable on sensitive skin.

In the fall of 1998 a project was begun when the Viking Sewing Machine Company published a pattern designed by a cancer patient. Gretchen was asked to coordinate the project and it was kicked off by a “Sew For the Cure” day sponsored by JoAnn Fabrics. They continued their commitment for several years and donated fabric which was used for that day’s sewing. The majority of the project was then moved to the Viking Sewing Galleries and finally into Gretchen's home.

We began by contacting the local oncology centers to distribute the hats. The list has grown over the years and now includes hospitals, oncology centers and others (see the list).

We have expanded the variety of hats we make to include turbans, scarves, stocking caps and fleece hats. We also now make pillows for mastectomy patients and Jackson Pratt drain holders for those same patients, along with other surgery patients.

Our purpose is to provide at least one hat to patients to provide warmth and contribute to their dignity. There are many other hats available and reasonable wigs to choose from in stores and online, but we wanted to be sure that EVERYONE had at least some covering for their heads and to know that others care for them.

Volunteers sewing hats

We distribute approximately 150 hats per month depending on the need and also approximately 50 mastectomy pillows and drain covers. All of the facilities now count on a monthly delivery.

A dedicated group of people meets once a month at Gretchen's home. In a space of 2 hours, they usually finish 100 hats.

Hats, which are cut out and ready to sew can be obtained (along with instructions) by emailing me. Individuals or groups can take these home, complete them and return them to be distributed. Many local chapters of the Rochester Chapter of the American Sewing Guild also assist in completing these hats. I have taught numerous Girl Scout troops how to make hats and they in turn complete them for Golisano Children’s Hospital. Altrusa, a professional women’s service group donates one of their meetings a year to this project. A senior citizen’s group completes pillows for hospice care. They make the pillows in all shapes and sizes to support limbs and relieve areas of pressure. We are also involved in the Home and Careers classes at some of the high schools.

Junior Girl Scouts and the hats they made
Our Lady of Mercy High School and Gates Chili High School have been involved although not at the present time. The past two years Churchville Chili Junior High School has been active in helping out and we continue to try and involve more schools. In most cases, fabric and supplies are donated to these groups from our supplies.

The voices of those who receive these items cannot give enough praise for this project. Both patients and employees of the centers state their thanks often, not only for the hats and pillows, but also for the care of others that accompanies them. Cancer touches us all and it is a small way for us to contribute to making life a little better.

The Hat Lady - Gretchen Dent -
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