When Berva Bocklage learned her baby grandson, Peyton, had cancer, she shed the tears any grandmother would.
"I remember just going outside in the parking lot and just sitting there crying," said Berva.
But inside the hospital, Berva was about to find the inspiration for a project that would consume the next decade of her life. Shortly after Peyton's diagnosis at the age of 7 months, he was given a fleece blanket by a family friend. Over the next two years that blanket accompanied Peyton through radiation treatments, two bone marrow transplants and ten rounds of chemotherapy.
One day, while Peyton was still fighting for his life, inspiration struck his grandmother. "I said, 'This one blanket's been so important. So we have to help other people.'"
Then, that's exactly what his grandmother did. Last Saturday evening nearly 300 volunteers gathered at Transfiguration Lutheran Church in Bloomington. By the end the night more than 800 fleece blankets had been tied from some two miles of fabric. Hundreds more will be made by individuals and at smaller blanket parties. All the blankets will be given away to cancer wards, hospices and homeless shelters, mostly in the Twin Cities area.
The blanket-making events started a few months after Peyton's diagnosis, and have mushroomed since.
"If I'm filling up my gas tank and somebody's filling up their gas tank and it's a woman, I'll say, 'Hey, have you ever made those fleece blankets?'" says Berva, who has become a tireless recruiter and promoter for the annual "For the Love of Peyton Blanket Party."
Among those volunteering Saturday night was Jill Collins who is currently battling breast cancer herself. "It makes me feel better. It makes me feel like I can actually help someone," Collins said as she tied up the edges of a blanket along with other members of her church.
Peyton recovered from his cancer, though, according to his grandmother, at one point doctors gave him just a 10 percent chance of survival. He recently celebrated his 9th birthday.
Peyton flies to the Twin Cities each year from his home in Florida to take part in the blanket party, helping to carry completed blankets from work stations throughout the church.
His smile is infectious. "He's always happy," says his grandmother. It's another way he gives back.
Joe Bocklage, Peyton's grandfather, says the annual event is proof that good can come, even from a cancer diagnosis. "This is the silver lining. A lot of other people have benefited now because of that," he said.
Olivia Berry, a Waconia high school senior, stood stunned with several classmates at night's end, gazing at a floor-to-ceiling stack of completed blankets. "I feel like I'm contributing to someone else's happiness, and that just makes me feel really good," she said.
Note: "For the Love of Peyton Blanket Parties" are funded by donations. For more information on donating or volunteering visit the organization's webpage or Facebook page. You can also email: email@example.com.