Mary Behrens wanted to start making mittens to sell as a side business to bring in extra money for her family.
But one night while in church, the 53-year-old Crystal Lake resident had a different thought.
“I should sell these mittens, not for my own family, but [for] so many people in different areas of the world who don’t have clean water,” Behrens said. “They can’t be like us and go up to their tap.”
So she brought the idea to the eight other members of her Bible study group through Willow Creek Community Church. The nine women meet once a week and perform some sort of community service at least once a month.
“’What do you think? You think we’ll be able to make mittens and make money to be able to get wells?’” Behrens asked members of the group. “Pretty much everybody was on board. It just snowballed.”
In November 2011, they started collecting sweaters that were at least 60 percent wool, fleece, thread and buttons to make mittens to raise money to dig wells in Africa.
The women take the sweaters, determine what would be a good pattern, shrink the sweaters in a washer, cut them into the mitten pattern, line them with fleece, and put the pieces into a plastic bag.
When the women have time, they stitch the pieces together to make a pair of mittens.
“A couple of us do them in our sleep now, we’ve sewn so many mittens,” Behrens said. “It’s a simple process, but it’s a lot that goes into it.”
When they’re done, the wool mittens have cuffs and some have buttons on them. They’re attached with a PAWS for Pure Water tag.
The group asks for $25 for each pair of mittens, and 100 percent of the profits go toward digging wells in Africa.
In 13 months they’ve been making mittens, they have sold 900 pairs during open houses where people come to a home, see the items displayed, and pick what they want.
So far, the women have raised about $20,000, enough to build two wells and work toward a third.
“We are grateful to our good friends who have supported us,” said group member Teri Drake, 56, of Port Barrington.
The first well is being dug in the village of Mwambenje, Malawi, and will serve more than 1,300 people in about 270 families.
Previously, villagers had to walk more than 3 miles to a pond, where the water is dirty.
A site for a second well is being selected.
“We thought it would take us years to get our first well,” said group leader Robin McInnes, 63, of Cary. “We never dreamed that this would happen.”
Having a clean water source is something that people in the developed world take for granted, but it is something that can help save lives in Africa. Waterborne illnesses are a leading cause of death for children younger than 5 in the developing world, Behrens said.
McInnes said women and young girls in the region may be attacked and raped while going to get water.
“This could even keep that from happening,” McInnes said. “It’s even more than clean water. It’s so many levels of helping people.”
PAWS for Pure Water group members:
• Robin McInnes, 63, of Cary
• Mary Behrens, 53, of Crystal Lake
• Gay Offutt, 60, of Cary
• Sherry Blass, 59, of Crystal Lake
• Sue Paulson, 47, of Crystal Lake
• Teri Drake, 56, of Port Barrington
• Sue Stinson, 52, of Island Lake
• Mary Cave, 53, of Crystal Lake
• Dana Wilson, 50, of Fox River Grove
For information about the mittens, visit www.pawsforpurewater.com