Armed with only their knitting needles and miles of colorful yarn, a group of Petaluma women are making a difference as far away as San Francisco.

Every Tuesday morning, 20 retired women gather together at the Petaluma Senior Center to share their communal love of knitting and crocheting. They call themselves the Petaluma Knitters and in their role as creative makers, they give back to the greater Bay Area community.

They dutifully stitch together colorful blankets, soft baby booties and fuzzy hats throughout the year, which are collected up and sent to the causes the women are passionate about supporting.

Anita Bene has been a member of the Petaluma Knitters for the past three years. In her opinion, "Petaluma Knitters is here to serve others. Most of us were so happy to find a group to share our handmade items and know they would be given away to someone in need to enjoy."

Recently, the care packages have been sent to the Pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit at UCSF's Benioff Children's Hospital, where the group donates nearly 50 knitted items for sick babies each year. Every winter, these handmade gifts help to make the patients at the Pediatric Cardiac ICU a little more comfortable, despite their critical condition.

"Most of our patients have congenital heart defects which require surgical intervention," says Kevin Spolini, a Petaluma resident and the patient care manager of the Pediatric Critical Care Unit at the hospital. "Many of the infants are born here and will not leave the hospital until they have had surgery. For some, that may mean surgery right after birth, and for others that may mean waiting in the hospital for weeks or months."

Since Spolini began working in the Pediatric Cardiac ICU, he and his fellow nurses have gratefully accepted the yearly donations from the Petaluma Knitters.

"These are patients who are typically full of tubes and lines, which make them look vastly different than a typical, cute newborn," Spolini explains. "The knitted items add a small piece of infant normalcy to the situation."

Being able to dress the babies in booties and hats is a way to introduce a bit of the normal, every day life for these infants who have yet to experience the comforts of home as they're confined in the hospital for their first days, weeks and months. For the parents of the seriously ill children, as well, seeing their little ones in something other than hospital equipment offers hope that there is a normal life once the child recovers.

Pediatric Cardiac ICU nurse Asunta Pacheco-Kennedy insists that the power of the knitted clothing does not stop there. During her 24 years caring for cardiac babies at UCSF, she has seen the positive impact of these donations on her and her fellow nurses, as well. She said the staff at UCSF finds joy in passing along theses homemade items to their critically ill patients.

"It's exciting to go to the bin and pick out something special for your patient," she says. "The nurses love all the different colors and designs, and it is very therapeutic for us, too."

(Contact Cyprien Pearson at

Cal Fire findings on 12 Northern California wildfires

Those referred to the District Attorney indicate Cal Fire determined PG&E was in violation of state code.

Redwood fire (Mendocino County): 543 structures destroyed, 9 deaths, 36,523 acres burned. The fires started in two locations when trees or tree parts fell onto PG&E power lines.

Nuns, Norrbom, Adobe, Partrick & Pythian fires (Sonoma and Napa counties): 1,355 structures destroyed; 3 deaths, 56,556 acres burned (Sonoma and Napa counties); all but Nuns fire referred to District Attorney.
• Nuns: Broken top of a tree crashed into powerlines.
• Norrbom: Tree fell onto powerlines.
• Adobe: Tree fell into PG&E powerline.
• Partrick: Oak tree fell into PG&E powerlines.
• Pythian: The fire started with a downed powerline caused after PG&E tried to re-energize the line.

Atlas fire (Napa County): 783 structures burned, 51,624 acres burned, 6 deaths; referred to the District Attorney.

Sulphur fire (Lake County): 2,207 acres, 162 structures destroyed; referred to the District Attorney. Fire ignited when a PG&E power pole failed, causing power lines and equipment to contact the ground.

Pocket fire (Sonoma County): 6 structures destroyed, 17,357 acres burned; referred to the District Attorney.

37 fire (Sonoma County): 3 structures destroyed, 1,660 acres burned (Sonoma County). PG&E distribution lines started an electrical fire.

Blue fire (Humboldt County): 20 acres burned; referred to the District Attorney. A PG&E powerline conductor separated from a connector, causing the conductor to fall to the ground and start a fire.

Cherokee fire (Butte County): 6 structures destroyed, 8,417 acres burned. Fire started when tree limbs made contact with PG&E powerlines.


Read all of the PD's fire coverage here