Barbara Demorest has seen “exponential growth” in the last month for her nonprofit, Knitted Knockers.
The Bellingham organization, which provides free, knitted breast prostheses to women who recently have undergone mastectomies, was featured early December in “Dear Abby,” the newspaper advice column that reaches millions of readers nationwide.
In the four weeks since, the nonprofit has received 6,000 orders for knockers. Before that, Demorest said she received about 1,000 orders per month.
“ ‘Dear Abby’ really pushed us to the next level,” Demorest said. “We’re getting 250 orders an hour. It’s really cool that we have a great network of volunteer knitters who are able to meet that.”
In addition to the influx of orders, Demorest said she was humbled by one interaction with a 93-year-old woman.
Like so many others, the woman reached out to Demorest asking to help.
“She said, ‘I can’t see very good, but with a magnifying glass, I can crochet,’ ” Demorest said. “I thought, oh my gosh, at 93 years old, this woman is getting something out of helping us.”
The organization has thousands of volunteer knitters registered across the United States and in 12 countries. Since the “Dear Abby” letter, Demorest said she has been contacted by 10 to 20 new volunteers every day.
Demorest and two other volunteers flew to Rwanda in October to visit Philippa Kibugu-Decuir, the founder of the Breast Cancer Initiative of East Africa, a nonprofit helping breast cancer patients in that region.
“She was wondering if Knitted Knockers could be a solution for the women in her country,” Demorest said. “There’s a huge stigma in Rwanda with having breast cancer. Having your breasts removed is a curse there. People don’t talk about it. They don’t even go out anymore if they have a mastectomy.”
The alternative to Knitted Knockers, silicone breast prostheses, are hot, heavy and expensive, Demorest said, and for many Rwandan women, don’t match their skin color.
The volunteers taught Rwandan women the pattern to knit the prostheses for themselves, and ultimately “set up a new model of providing for themselves,” Demorest said.
Knitted Knockers is looking to expand.
“It’s my vision to provide to doctors’ offices, where women who are going through this can just pick them up and go home, and they don’t have to order them online,” Demorest said.
Demorest added that 200 medical clinics are registered to provide Knitted Knockers to patients, and 50 more clinics requested registration in the last month. She is working to have them adopted by local knitting groups across the country.
“Every single day, we’re contacted by more oncologists and radiologists,” Demorest said. “You know you’ve touched a chord when that many people are reaching out. … It never ceases to amaze me that, with no paychecks, we’re able to do this.”
▪ Preferred material is Ultra Pima, a durable, shiny cotton that won’t shrink and is washable.
▪ Knitted Knockers requested online are available in assorted sizes and three basic color schemes: bright, pastel and dark. Volunteers sometimes knit Knockers that are more colorful and fancy; those might be found in baskets of samples at local doctors’ offices.
▪ It takes 2 1/2 to 4 hours to make one, depending on the knitter’s skill.
HOW TO HELP
Help: Volunteers can knit or crochet knockers at home or in groups. For details about the weekly group at Apple Yarns, call 360-756-9992 or visit the store at 1780 Iowa St., No. 103.
Donate: Knitted Knockers is an all-volunteer group, and donations are needed to cover mailing and other expenses. Checks can be made out to “Knitted Knockers Support Foundation” and mailed to Knitted Knockers, 1780 Iowa St., Bellingham, WA 98229. Credit card donations are accepted through PayPal at the Knitted Knockers website.