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Blanketed with comfort

Woman thought ministry would last 3 months; that was 15 years ago

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is one of a series of Saturday profiles of area residents and their stories. To suggest a profile, contact features editor Burton Cole at bcole@tribtoday.com.

STRUTHERS — When Wanda Marland launched her Comfort Blanket Ministry in Pittsburgh to help orphaned and foster children cope with insecurity and fear, she had no idea how big her small idea would become.

“I had been a church secretary for 18 years,” said Marland, who lives on the Struthers border a few blocks away from Poland. “People would come into my office and tell me their stories of life’s problems. I listened. How could I make them feel a little better?

“The answer that God placed in my heart was to make comfort blankets. I thought I would do it for a three-month trial. That was 15 years ago,” Marland said.

Now called Comfort and Hope and based out of her home, Wanda’s organization has expanded from blankets to birthday bags to books. This year alone, she has delivered comfort and hope to hundreds of children with:

¯ 335 birthday bags;

¯ 460 comfort blankets;

¯ 100 Easter bags;

¯ More than 200 handmade scarves;

¯ More than 100 children’s books;

¯ 400 Christmas stockings and small bags.

When she put the call out via the internet for groups and sites to help her with a recent, last-minute stocking request, 50 of her neighbors volunteered. They assembled stockings, made blankets, wrote birthday messages for the kids and made birthday bags.

“It was amazing,” she said.

When cartoonist Charles Schultz created the character of Linus Van Pelt for his “Peanuts” comic strip, he endowed him with a blue blanket. That security blanket became so popular that they are now often called “Linus blankets.”

As did Schultz, so too did Marland tap into the very core of a child’s emotions with her happiness blankets.

Child development experts call them “transitional objects.” They help children transition from the familiar to the unfamiliar and from dependence to independence. When confronted with scary situations and strange, unfamiliar places, blankets and other soft objects like teddy bears bring them comfort and security. Few children need them more than those without parents.

“Five years ago, I heard someone from Northeast Ohio Adoption Services speak. Hearing stories of these children who had no families, no mother or father to guide them made me sad,” Marland said.

Since launching her mission, Marland’s blankets have gone to Akron Children’s Hospital, Berea Children’s Home, Rescue Mission, Protestant Family Services, Sojourner House, Mars Home for Abused Teens, Russian Orphans, Spain Missionaries and a little boys’ choir from India.

Next month, Trumbull County Children Services will launch its own Comfort and Hope program with Marland’s guidance.

“I told them how I do it and they’re going to do the exact same thing,” she said.

Each month, both Northeast Ohio Adoption Services and Mahoning County Children Services delivers a list of children in need. This list includes the child’s name, age and sometimes what the child would like for his or her birthday. All birthday bags include a comfort blanket.

The children range in age from 1 to 18. When they turn 18, they leave the foster care system. Comfort and Hope then gives them gift cards for Target or Walmart and Bibles to help their transition to independent living.

Marland has built her organization solely by word of mouth. People of faith would say she has angels on her shoulders.

One day while shopping at Marc’s, her cart filled with items for birthday bags, a lady tapped her on the shoulder and remarked on them.

“When I told her what I did,” Marland recalled, “she said ‘I think I can help. I have two organizations that I think could collect items for you.’ Her name was Angel.”

Other benefactors have included the Lions Clubs and Poland Cleaners Poland Presbyterian Church

“When I first started making blankets 15 years ago, I invited 12 churches to a luncheon to tell them about this Blanket Ministry,” she said. “I gave each church five blankets to start this at their church. Poland Presbyterian Church was one of those churches and they are still making blankets 15 years later.”

One night earlier this year, Wanda was awakened by an impulse at 4 in the morning She opened a devotional lying on the table next to her bed to a passage — based on Scripture — that she had not read in years:

“When you come to Me, I will often bring others into your life who will comfort you and encourage you in your faith. I AM it with you, but I also use others for MY purposes in your life, just as I want to use you to accomplish My purposes in the lives of others. I will bring others into your life whom you can trust, who can hear MY voice clearly when you cannot.”

Now, with Trumbull County Children Services set to expand her mission, it is apparent it is blessed mission, Marland said. She closed a recent speech with the words of Mother Teresa: “It’s not how much we give, but how much love we put into giving.”

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