“… Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.” — Matthew 25:40
Service and ministry can take many different forms and pathways.
Some people who are called into ministry preach from the pulpit, while others lead the worship service or serve as missionaries in foreign lands.
Ministry can also be as simple as turning skeins of colorful yarn into beautiful, warm hats for the homeless and needy.
For the past six years, eight ladies in Jay have been meeting every Thursday afternoon to knit hats to give away to the less fortunate. During this time, the Niffty Nitters, as the group calls itself, has knitted and given away from than 2,000 hats.
“We’ve made more than 200 hats just since November,” said Joy Lingle, the group’s founding member who serves as hostess each week.
From 1 to 4 p.m., the Niffty Nitters gather around Lingle’s dining room table, pick up their looms and knit the afternoon away.
“We sit here and knit and talk and laugh,” Lingle said. “We laugh a lot. And, pray for people.”
In addition to Lingle, the knitting group includes Susan Nelson, Joyce Williams, Debbie Orr, Connie Rice, Diana Lokey and sisters-in-law Treva Martin and Mary Martin.
They all know each other through the Jay First Assembly of God church. The ladies range in age from Lingle, who is 90 years old, to Orr, who at 64 is jokingly referred as the baby of the group. Everyone, except Lokey, is retired.
“I tried to retire. We moved here to retire, from the Skiatook Assembly of God, but retirement didn’t take,” said Lokey, who works at Jay First Assembly of God, taking over church secretary duties from Martin.
But Lokey takes a break from work every Thursday to knit with the Niffty Nitters.
How It All Began
Knitting 2,000-plus hats for the needy wasn’t the goal when the Niffty Nitters first picked up looms and yarn. Learning to knit was.
It all began when Rice and her granddaughter wanted to learn how to knit. They turned to Lingle, an accomplished artist and exceptionally skilled crafter, for lessons.
Lingle started out knitting scarves, making well over 100 scarves, which she gave out as gifts to ladies in the church.
After Rice, Lingle taught Treva Martin how to knit. Then, one by one, the other ladies joined in and the Niffty Nitters was formed.
Instead of wielding knitting needles, the Niffty Nitters use knitting looms and loom hooks to create the colorful and very well-made hats. They have oval looms and round looms in different sizes, depending on whether they’re knitting hats for adults or children. They also have separate looms to make pom-poms to top the hats.
So why does the group knit with looms?
“None of us knew how to purl knit,” Mary Martin said. “Although, I would like to learn.”
Loom knitting, Orr said, is “real easy when you know the stitch. It’s easy to do while watching TV or when we’re talking with each other.”
The group started out making scarves as well as hats, but decided to streamline their production to just hats. Last winter, the ladies say, they went trendy and made ear warmers as well as hats. The ear warmers featured flowers and were intended for women and girls.
But, knit hats are the Niffty Nitters’ specialty.
The group knits hats in two sizes for adults and children. They create hats with and without brims, as well as some with pom-poms for decoration and some without pom-poms.
From the very beginning, the group has given away the hats to those in need. They started giving them to the homeless in 2011-2012.
“We never sell a hat. They’re all given away,” Williams said. “We sent about 80 hats and ear warmers to an orphanage in Hot Springs, Ark.”
According to Mary Martin, the group donated 40 children’s hats to the Zena Baptist Church last year. The hats were included in shoebox gifts given to the Samaritan’s Purse Operation Christmas Child program.
These 40 hats were part of the 400 hats the Niffty Nitters gave away last year.
“We knit all year long and then give the hats away in winter,” Lingle said. “We make two sizes, adult and child. It’s especially important to have hats for children.”
“We do what we can when we’re here,” Orr said. “But we also all knit at home too.”
Throughout the year, the hats are collected in large black garbage bags. A hundred hats fit in each garbage bag, Lingle said. The group already has two bags filled and ready for distribution later this year.
Over the years, the John 3:16 Mission has been the largest recipient of the Niffty Nitters’ hat donations. The hats donated to John 3:16 Mission are given to the homeless and at-risk men, women and children who are being assisted by the Tulsa mission.
“We’ve helped a lot of homeless,” Lingle said.
The Niffty Nitters have made camouflage hats specifically for homeless vets at the John 3:16 Mission.
Lingle’s contact at the John 3:16 Mission put the group in contact with a school in Tulsa where they were able to donate hats to needy children.
The Niffty Nitters have also donated hats to students and teachers at Jay schools as well as the elderly at nursing homes and through DHS.
“When we took some hats to Tulsa, we got to take a tour through the mission,” Rice said. “And, we’ve received some of the most beautiful letters from the kids who received hats. One little girl sent her hat back because her pom-pom had been pulled off. We made a new one for her.”
Loaves and Fishes
Obviously it takes a lot of yarn to knit more than 2,000 hats, which leads to the question “where does the group get the yarn they use?”
“That’s one of the neatest things about this group,” Nelson said. “We go up and down. And, when we get low, Joy will say, ‘if God wants us to continue doing this, He’ll provide.’”
“Yarn will come into the thrift store or Debbie will purchase some at a garage sale,” Lokey adds.
“The Lord provides. It’s like loaves and fishes,” Lingle said. “It just comes.”
Most of the yarn is donated to the group. For those interested in donating yarn to the Niffty Nitters, call Lokey at (918) 837-0186. Yarn can be dropped off at the Jay First Assembly of God, but Lokey recommends calling her first to make sure someone is available at the church to accept donations.
As for what kind of yarn the group accepts, the ladies aren’t picky. They’ll use whatever is donated.
“Whatever we get. We prefer regular yarn, a medium four-ply,” Lingle said. “But we use anything we get.”
“If it’s knitting yarn or crocheting yarn, we’ll take it,” Orr said.
“We’ll use whatever they send us,” Treva Martin added.
According to Rice, the group uses three strands of yarn for most of the hats they make.
“Using three strands makes the hat thick and makes it warmer,” Rice said. “With super bulky yarn, we can just use one strand .”
Lingle’s guest room serves as the group’s yarn room.
In addition to the two large garbage bags holding 100 finished hats each, the room also contains several boxes with hats piled inside. The bed in the room is covered with skeins of yarn in every color of the rainbow, as well as balls of yarn, all waiting to be knitted into hats.
Although the group’s membership is limited to the number of ladies who can fit in Lingle’s dining room, the Niffty Nitters has had several honorary members.
One of those honorary members was Mickey Martin, a dementia patient who has since passed away. She didn’t knit, but, according to the group, she would sit and play with the yarn while she watched the others knit.
Mary Martin’s brother, George Brigham, and Nelson’s friend, Troy Brock, are also honorary members. Both knit hats that are added to the group’s collection to be donated.
“Troy and I watch movies and knit together,” Nelson said. “He uses up the smaller balls of yarn. He has a gift for knitting them together.”
The ladies explain that one of the first steps in knitting the hats is to roll the skeins of yarn into balls, which makes the yarn easier to handle. Balls of yarn that have dwindled down while knitting are often considered to be scraps, but not by the Niffty Nitters.
“We don’t waste anything,” Lingle said.
More Than Just Knitting
As the afternoon progresses, conversation ebbs and flows around the table, fading to a companionable silence as the ladies concentrated on knitting the yarn on their looms. Then someone asks the others if they saw what happened on “Bull,” a new television show.
Everyone chimes in, some knowing what happened and others saying they hadn’t heard of the show. The conversation then branches off to discuss similar shows of the past, including “Columbo” and “Perry Mason”. It then moves to the ladies’ favorite shows to watch at bedtime.
From there, the small talk turns to tilapia — whether one should eat tilapia or not, where to buy it locally and the tastiest and easiest recipes for preparing the fish — before veering off in other directions, including a daughter’s wedding.
Whatever the topic under discussion, all of the ladies’ exchanges are liberally peppered with laughter.
“We’re a crazy bunch of people,” said Orr, who was the last lady to join the knitting group.
“But we sure do have fun,” Lingle said.
Prayer requests also are voiced because prayer plays an important part in the Niffty Nitters’ ministry.
“We pray over the hats when we finish them,” Mary Martin said.
“We pray that it will keep the person warm who needs it and that they will find the Lord,” Lingle added.
Even as they laugh and joke with each other, the Niffty Nitters are serious about the hats they are knitting and work hard to make sure each one is top-quality.
“We try not to just throw something together,” Lokey said.
“We don’t want to do something that’s not first class, because we’re doing it for the Lord,” Lingle said.
Treva Martin agrees, “We give it our best. It’s a ministry.”
Martha J. Henderson is a freelance writer for The Grove Sun. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.