Meghan Fogg (left) and Courtney Sparks (right), both librarians at the Freeport Community Library, created Purls of Wisdom, a bi-weekly knitting group that donates knitwear to local homeless and new American populations.  Kathleen O’Brien / The Times Record

FREEPORT — When newly arrived asylum seekers moved in next door to Meghan Fogg, the adult programming librarian at Freeport Community Library, she wanted to help but didn’t know how, so she turned to her favorite hobby — knitting.

Fogg and her colleague Courtney Sparks, who has a passion for crocheting, created a bi-weekly knitting group, dubbed Purls of Wisdom, to help clothe locals struggling with homelessness and new arrivals to the country who fled persecution and violence in their home nations.

“Being new to a country and not being able to communicate or living on the street, you need those small instances of human care,” said Fogg. “Just because something is small doesn’t mean it’s worthless.”

Nearly 450 asylum seekers – mostly from Angola and the Democratic Republic of the Congo – arrived in Portland in mid-June after fleeing violence and persecution in their home countries. From there, asylum seekers have been dispersed throughout the Portland area and southern Maine. About 60 asylum seekers have settled in Brunswick, where temporary free housing was established at the former Brunswick Naval Air Station.

Portland saw a second wave of asylum seekers when nearly 170 more, mostly from sub-Saharan Africa, arrived in Portland in December 2019.

While southern Maine has taken notice of the influx of asylum seekers, the totals pale in comparison to the number of people experiencing homelessness throughout the state.

Fogg said she liked the idea of knitting for charity because knit items offer not only warmth and protection from the cold, but also let the wearer know someone cares about them.

According to the Maine Point in Time Count, which offers a snapshot of homelessness on one night of the year, there were 1,215 Mainers experiencing homelessness on Jan. 22, 2019 — an 8% increase over 2018. The real numbers, though, are thought to be much higher. The count does not include people who are couch surfing, staying with friends, or people who couldn’t be found during the search.

In fiscal year 2019, Brunsick’s Tedford Housing served 86 individuals and 23 families in the adult and family shelters, but had to turn away 251 individuals and 205 families due to lack of space. Of those served, 39% of individuals and 88% of families exited to permanent housing.

After speaking with representatives from Preble Street, a Portland-based homeless shelter that will receive some of the donated items, Fogg found wool items in neutral colors and simple patterns are the best for homeless populations because wool is warm, washable and fire repellent.

Armed with knitting needles and yarn donated by the Freeport Elders Association, Fogg said the group offers an outlet for “introverts out there that want to make a difference.” While the first few meetings only drew six people and no projects have been completed yet, Fogg and Sparks said they hope to see the group grow.

The knitting group meets every second and fourth Wednesday from 10 a.m to noon in the library’s sunroom.


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