In the spare bedroom of Loretta Loy's cozily compact senior-living residence in the Waynedale area, folded squares of brightly colored and printed fabric line shelves, while stuffed animals spill out of a bookcase.
In a corner sits a sewing machine where Loy, 78, spends six, seven or even eight hours a day stitching away on fleece-backed blankets.
Those hours are the ones the mother of seven, grandmother of a dozen, great-grandmother of a dozen more and great-great-grandmother of one likes best – because, she says, it's a way she can spread love to children.
“I think I feel I have to do it,” she says. “Children have always been important to me.”
Some might see Loy's endeavor as a hobby run wild – even she does sometimes, when the finished blankets she gives away can be seen in plastic bags on a living room couch, or the bank account she has set aside for supplies dips into the lower two digits.
But learning about Loy sheds some light. Indeed, she's spent nearly her whole life dedicated to little ones.
First, she raised her and late husband J.C. Loy's six children to high school age. Then, for a few years, the couple took in foster children, adopting one of them as their own.
For 19 years, she drove school buses, sometimes ferrying special-needs children to their classes. She became known as “The Hat Lady” after she realized kids could find their bus more easily by looking for the driver in the hat.
By the time she retired, she says, she had collected more than 100 hats, many as gifts.
Loy says she doesn't remember how many foster children lived with her, though she does recall having seven living with her one year at Christmas. “And none of them were my own,” she says.
Tellingly, she still recalls the way many arrived at her home. “When kids came to me, most of them had only a paper sack for a few clothes,” she says. “And that was all they had in the world. I know there are kids who don't have anything, anything at all.”
Loy says her blanket brainchild, which she calls Nana's Creations, began about a decade ago, after she was prompted by a daughter's remark at Christmas.
She said her kids had enough blankets, but she thought area firefighters could use some to give to kids affected by fires.
So, Loy began contacting area fire stations and giving them fleece-backed blankets similar to what she had made for her family.
To finance her donations, she sold some of the coverlets to family and friends and at area craft shows, promising that for every blanket sold, one would be donated. For a while, she rented a storefront in Waynedale where she made and sold the items.
In 2005, she recruited a sewing class at the former Elmhurst High School to help, and members raised money and put together 75 blankets to add to the ones she had already delivered. She says she has donated to about 20 fire and emergency services groups in Fort Wayne and surrounding communities.
One time, when an area volunteer firefighter died in a car crash, she made special blankets and gave them as a gift to his widow and children.
She has also made patriotic-themed blankets and donated them to families of the 122nd Fighter Wing of the Indiana Air National Guard. Five of her seven children, including two daughters, have served in the military, so she understands the sacrifices military families make.
Loy occasionally has branched out – making blankets with a foot-warming pocket she called Toastie Tootsies and some designed for grown-ups called Nap on the Couch.
But she always goes back to making blankets for kids, sometimes wrapping a donated stuffed animal inside.
Her most recent donations, made with several hundred dollars in financial help from the South Side Optimist Club, have been to preschools, including one at Maplewood Elementary School.
Loy plans a donation this month to Justin Study Elementary School's preschool and hopes to expand to other Fort Wayne Community Schools preschools and child-care centers.
She recalls a little girl at one donation site who insisted that her teacher phone her because “she wanted me to come back so she could give me a hug.”
Loy did, of course. “She was so happy,” she says.
“It's just fun. I just really like to see these kids smile. It's just really heartwarming. I don't know how to express it. It's what I know how to do, and it's the least I can do for kids.”
Loy, a widow for 22 years, says she always makes it a point to learn the genders of the recipient children so she can make the right number of girl-themed and boy-themed blankets – Barbies and butterflies, flowers and ponies and peace signs for little girls; Snoopy and Yogi Bear, firecrackers, cars, trucks and spaceships for little boys.
She also places labels on the back of the blankets that read “Made with Love and Imperfections.”
Yes, she says, just like all God's children.