Creativity for a Good Cause

Artists support Hospice of the Calumet Area.
by Kathy McKimmie

“We’re quite a cottage industry,” says Lydia Dershewitz, of the Hospice Artisan group, whose sales of handmade items help support the programs of Hospice of the Calumet Area in Munster.

“We found a rather unique way of raising funds,” she says. “It’s all about hospice; it begins with the need and ends with the need.”

The group of volunteer artists came together in 2005 and now numbers more than 50 women and two men, ages 15 to 92. All of them make little pieces of artwork, one at a time, that are sold at 20 shows a year throughout the region.

Hospice Artisan

HOSPICE ARTISANS Handmade artwork created for a good cause.

Hospice of the Calumet Area, originally called Hospice of Northwest Indiana, is a not-for-profit that has been providing compassionate end-of-life care for 30 years, and serves Lake County and parts of Porter County and Cook County, Ill.

“The Friends of Hospice, the 29-year-old fundraising auxiliary of Hospice of the Calumet Area, is closing in on contributions of $1 million to Hospice,” Dershewitz says, “with the Hospice Artisans being responsible for $100,000.”

Dershewitz is a reluctant spokesperson for the group, not wanting to call attention to herself, although she will say she functions as a coordinating liaison. “We all have nom de plumes when we sign our things,” she says, “because it’s not about us, it’s about hospice and families.”

Her own involvement with hospice began in 2000 when she and her husband moved to the area from Boston. After being invited to a fundraiser, she decided she would like to become a patient volunteer, working once a week.

Later she joined Friends of Hospice and “the artisan idea started evolving.” She had once made one-of-a-kind greeting cards as a business and asked the staff if they would like to sell them and keep the proceeds.

Soon others were making the cards for sale and it became the first of many different items made by the artisans. Other items include writing pads and journals, sticky note folios, bags and scarves, “hideaway” totes, aprons, “hushkin” dolls, fused-glass nightlights, fleur de tissu-fabric flowers and Christmas tree ornaments.

Another handmade item that predates the formation of the artisan group is the knitted prayer shawl, made by volunteers and donated to hospice patients. Several hundred have been given away and some patients have been buried in them.

Shortly after the artisan group formed, Pam Sussman, a well-known fabric and paper artist, moved to the area from Philadelphia. “Luck has brought us so many people,” says Dershewitz. “She said, ‘I can help,’ and she has taught others to make items.”

Dershewitz says she is always amazed at the people in the artisan group and by the customers and others who support them. They have received donations for supplies, their booth rent at some shows has been waived in recognition of their mission, and some customers will round up the checks that they write as an added donation for hospice. Her high praise also extends to those within the organization.

“You couldn’t find more supportive individuals,” she says, “from the executive director, Adrianne May, to the entire staff.”

Everyone in the artisan group brings a great deal of talent and interest, Dershewitz says. “They may add another skill and make something else or may decide to go into sales or packaging, but they always stay involved.”

One artisan card maker who moved to Florida remains involved — she mails in her creations. Says Dershewitz, “We have no drop outs.”

All proceeds from Hospice Artisans are donated to: Hospice of the Calumet Area, 600 Superior Ave., Munster, IN 46321, 219/922-2732, www.hospicecalumet.org.

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