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'I hope I see some people wearing them': Portland woman crochets scarves for homeless

Judy Switzer started crocheting the scarves when the pandemic hit, but didn't know what to do with them until she saw the houseless population on Portland's streets.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Judy Switzer of Southeast Portland found she had a few extra hours on her hands when the pandemic hit the U.S. in March of 2020. She had just retired as an educator and had planned on getting knee replacement surgery. Her daughter suggested she take up crocheting as a way to keep busy while cooped up inside the house.

"I thought, I could do that. It's nothing fancy, it's just a single stitch," Switzer said. "I made one scarf and then another and then another."

Switzer learned how to crochet in high school while attending John Adams High School in Portland. She made scarves for her kids when they were babies, but then put down the crochet hooks and yarn for years, until recently.

"About 42 years. Yeah, yeah. Maybe about 41, 42 years. That's the last time I crocheted." Switzer said.

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She didn't have a plan for the scarves she was making. She thought she would give them out to friends and family, but then one day she and her husband went for a drive. Switzer said they would do that as a way to get out of the house while quarantining during the early days of the pandemic. It was during one of these drives that she noticed the growing houseless population on Portland's streets.

"I felt so bad. It's wintertime. They're gonna be cold, I don't know how to do hats or gloves yet, so I thought I'd start out with a few scarves," Switzer said.

Her first scarf was gray and black, and wider than the rest. As she kept making more and more, the styles and designs would change.

"I wound up having to buy a big bag to store them in, that started overflowing." Switzer said. 

Sitting in her recliner at her Southeast Portland home, Switzer has crocheted around 200 scarves. There's a black and orange one to show their love of the Oregon State Beavers, and another that reminds Switzer of her husband Steve's love of the Rolling Stones. Each scarf takes her about two hours to finish.

"You make a loop and single stitch and you pull the yarn through the loop," Switzer said." Next thing you know, you can do one stitch, two stitches or more and you just go through the loops and pull through. Anybody can do it, anybody can do it."

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Nothing goes to waste and when there's extra yarn left over from one scarf, it gets made into a "scrap" scarf that's full of other leftover pieces of yarn to make a one-of-a-kind scarf full of different colors. 

Switzer plans to donate the scarves to Blanchet House in Portland on Thursday, Nov. 18, and the scarves will get handed out on Friday. The nonprofit provides meals, clothing and shelter to people in need.

After Switzer donates the scarves, she'll get back to work making a new batch for next year. This time, she wants to increase the amount to 300 scarves.

"I hope I see some people wearing them. That would be nice. I just feel so good about helping somebody, even if it's just a scarf." Judy said.