Kwentin Foster made 400 blankets for sick children and some grownups who could use extra warmth.
In the two years since the 10-year-old and his mother started tying together pieces of fleece to make cozy wraps to give away, their project has become bigger than anyone expected.
Hospital representatives write to say kids find comfort in the fleece with patterns of little robots, princesses and footballs. A recent batch was gratefully accepted at a homeless shelter.
Kwentin doesn’t intend to stop until his 3-year-old sister Vanessa is old enough to take over.
“I just imagine them in a hospital bed, and it’s dark, and they’re scared,” he said, “and they get a nice warm blanket and it lights up their whole world.”
He doesn’t usually get to meet the children, but he knows his work is important.
“No kid deserves to get cancer,” he said.
He spoke on an evening at his home, a cozy brick house in Sloan, where he lives with his mother, grandmother, sister and 8-month-old brother William. The project he calls “Kwentin’s Blankets for Sick Kids” started in 2014 when he was homeschooled for a couple of years between Catholic school and his new public school, Woodrow Wilson Elementary.
He was bored. His mother, Adrian, a nurse, thought a community service project would help.
“I put that bored energy into helping other people,” he said.
His mother and grandmother have since dropped off stacks for children at Roswell Park Cancer Institute, for people staying the Ronald McDonald House, for the preemie babies at Sisters Hospital. They even mailed a batch to a New Jersey foundation that supplies wagons that children wheel through hospital hallways.
“There’s a never-ending amount of kids, unfortunately, who get comfort from the blankets. There’s always a need,” said Kathy Foster, his grandmother, who coordinates the deliveries in bundles of 12. “He does a blanket pretty much every day.”
Last summer, he handed out blankets to kids at a Hunter’s Hope symposium in Ellicottville for children with Krabbe disease, a rare degenerative disorder. The children couldn’t speak, but they looked happy with his gift. One child used his computer to say, “Thank you.”
Kwentin listens attentively to conversation and breaks into the occasional dimpled grin. He fits blanket making in between basketball, football, homework, looking after his siblings and hanging out with schoolmates.
He raises money to buy fabric by collecting bottles and cans from neighbors and friends and walking bagfuls to the redemption center around the corner.
At home, bolts of fleece are stacked on shelves in the basement playroom. When Kwentin needs time away from his younger siblings, he sometimes retreats to a table along the wall, where his grandmother and mother cut and match up pairs of blanket-sized squares.
Kwentin knots the pieces of fringe they cut along the sides. Making the ties is easy now, but it wasn’t in the beginning. He wanted to quit in frustration. His mother gave him a pep talk. “You’re getting really good at this,” he remembers her saying. “You’re going faster.”
On one Sunday evening, Kwentin patiently and swiftly knotted fringe of a square piece of orange fleece together with some blue robot fleece. He fell into a swift rhythm, knotting and talking at the same time. “It’s kind of like just going with the flow,” he said.
The blankets taught him that it’s important to help people in need. The pleasure he gets from making something that can make another kid happy feels like a part of him now.
“It’s in my heart, really,” said Kwentin. “It feels really good to give back.”