94-year-old crochets 'prayer shawls' for cancer patients

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At 94, Irene Marder is handing out hope, one prayer shawl at a time.

If you spend enough time in a cancer center infusion room, you start to notice things. It's crowded, it’s quiet, and, as Emory Saint Joseph's Cancer Center newcomer David Thompson is learning, it's a little chilly in there.

"They tell me you get real cold,” says Thompson. “This is only my second treatment. And you get real sensitive to cold."

That’s why Irene Marder is letting cancer patients know she's got them covered.

"They just seem to be amazed,” Marder says. “Yes, they are. I guess because I give them something pretty."

That "something pretty" is a hand-stitched blanket, a prayer shawl.  It takes Marder two days to crochet each one.

"Some people were just taken aback, amazed that someone would do this,” says Marder’s daughter Patricia Shida. “But it's not just the prayer shawl, it's the prayers."

Because while Irene Marder crochets, she prays over every stitch, blessing the stranger who will receive her blanket.

"You walk into her apartment and you see her mouth moving constantly, as she is crocheting,” says her daughter.

Irene has been making these blankets for almost ten years.

At first, she called them “lap robes.”

"And she's been giving them away to people on the streets, perhaps people who might be homeless,” says Shida.  “Residents in the place where she lives. Anyone in a wheelchair has gotten one."

Three years ago, Irene's mission changed, when her granddaughter Stephanie, Patricia Shida’s daughter, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"She faced a double mastectomy,” says Shida. “And that changed my life, not only my daughter's life, but it changed my life."

That's when Patricia and Irene began to notice how many others, like those fighting cancer, could use a blanket and a blessing.

"I encouraged mom to start making them and giving them to people who truly have a need, for the prayers that go into these shawls,” says Shida.

Since then, Irene has made and given out more than hundred shawls to cancer patients at Emory Saint Joseph’s.

"I just love doing it, it keeps me involved, the prayers,” says Irene Marder. “I never have to worry at the end of the day that I'm not praying for somebody.  They all know they're covered."

David Thompson, who has just begun chemo after undergoing surgery for colon cancer, was touched by the 94-year old who dropped by his infusion chair with a shawl for him.

"You know, I wasn't expecting it,” Thompson says. “I was expecting to get my usual chemo and to get this was great."

Irene Marder jokes that the shawls keep her “out of trouble.”

"I just hope that the person I give it to likes them,” she says. “And they're prayerful.  And even if they're not, they know God is still watching over them."

You can donate yarn  by reaching out the Marder family at https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100006355775726&fref=ts