Among Walt Disney World’s Blanketeers are four West Orange-area residents who love crafting and giving back to the community.
Four West Orange-area residents are among many who spend their days helping make the magic happen at Walt Disney World.
For some, that entails caring for animals at Animal Kingdom. For others, it involves any of the numerous roles in the theme parks, from merchandise and retail sales to character attendants or engineering.
But the magic doesn’t always come from the mouse: Sometimes, it comes from a set of hands and a pair of knitting needles.
They are Disney cast members, but they’re also known as the Blanketeers.
BIRTH OF THE BLANKETEERS
Around 2008, there were small pockets of cast members who enjoyed crafting on their lunch hours, said cast member and Winter Garden resident Debbie Weber. It was around that time the VoluntEARS program — which arranges volunteer activities around the community for cast members to participate in — changed from yellow to white shirts. Some decided to reach out to the crafters to see if they had any use for the old fabric.
As it turned out, the crafters did: They turned the old shirts into crocheted pet beds to donate to local animal shelters and rescues.
With that, they took a page from California’s Disneyland Blanketeers group and created the Walt Disney World Blanketeers.
About 80 Blanketeers contribute on a regular basis, and about 200 total will contribute from time to time or participate in monthly boxing events, where all of the crafts are shipped out to local charities.
“When I started to do the quilts I thought, ‘Well, when I get to be a little old lady in a nursing home I hope someone gives me a quilt.’” — Kate St. Germain
Each Blanketeer brings his or her own talent and skill to the table. Some are craftier than others and take on the sewing, knitting, crocheting and quilting tasks. Others contribute by cutting up material, braiding, tying knots and packing or delivering the finished products.
“We have a group known as corporate citizenship, a group within Team Disney that helps us determine what we can send out to charities,” said Winter Garden resident Albert Intenzo. “We have caps, scarves, blankets, large blankets for families and smaller blankets for infants, booties, shawls and more. They work with charities to determine what they need, but it doesn't always hold us back from creating other things.”
Crafts and projects range from blankets, quilts and cold-weather clothing to pet beds, dog tug toys and pillows. Additionally, Winter Garden resident Kate St. Germain, Weber’s mother, loves creating “walker bags” out of pillowcases for purple martins.
“I’ve been with the company for 14 years ago and my daughter Deb introduced me to VoluntEARS,” St. Germain said. “We've done, because of her interest in animals, the bags for the purple martins research and the surgical masks for the Gorilla Rehab center in Africa. …(And) when I started to do the quilts I thought, ‘Well, when I get to be a little old lady in a nursing home I hope someone gives me a quilt.’”
In 2017 the Walt Disney World Blanketeers produced and distributed more than 8,500 items. Their most recent shipment comprised 21 boxes bound for 15 different organizations; however, Intenzo said, the group has had as many as 40 boxes shipped at a time.
“When we meet, it’s on our lunch or after our shifts,” Intenzo said. “It’s volunteer time, it’s not on the clock, and it’s people giving their own time and sometimes their own materials. We up-cycle as much as we can, so if costuming is changing something out they bring it to us first to repurpose instead of incinerating.”
As of July 26, the group has donated more than 4,300 items this year. It averages about 700 items a month, and the members hope to break last year’s 8,500 mark.
“There’s a pride in knowing we’re maintaining skills and increasing the number of people who know how to do these things,” Weber said. “These are wonderful crafting skills we not only get to learn ourselves but then teach others how to do. I think there’s a different quality to something that’s handmade.”
PAYING IT FORWARD
Each Blanketeer has his or her own story of involvement with the group. For Horizon West resident Victoria Hamilton, it began last fall when there was a charity request for about 150 baby hats.
“I crocheted forever and my friend was part of the group; when they sent out the call for the caps I said, ‘I can make baby hats,’” Hamilton said. “I ended up making 30 hats or something. I came to the meeting to turn them in and the rest is history. So far this year, I have over 200 volunteer hours (logged). It was the baby hats that got me hooked.”
Weber has been with Walt Disney World for more than 25 years and was one of the original Blanketeers. Intenzo said he got involved when he saw Sabine Jeunette, one of the coordinators of the Walt Disney World Blanketeers, sitting out front crocheting.
“I used to (crochet) years ago but had stopped and she said, ‘Come on Thursday,’” Intenzo said. “I met with her and picked it back up, and that has to be about five years ago.”
There is a special Blanketeers project for just about every organization or charity that requests one, from homeless shelters and military care packages to animal shelters and social workers. Hamilton’s personal favorite projects are the baby hats, which are a good way to use excess yarn from a blanket or square project.
Weber loves making things for animals, whether that be crocheted pet beds or tug toys. She also makes contact with Disney’s textile-service department to get the old clothes needed to make them. St. Germain enjoys quilting and sewing, and Intenzo is partial to blankets. He also is nifty with learning new techniques and creating his own patterns.
“Albert truly has the Disney talent,” Weber said. “Walt Disney envisioned this goal and could make it a reality, and I think that’s what he does with the creations he makes. He has the ability to think, ‘How do I get there and make that (project) become a reality?’”
What’s more, Disney rewards its volunteers’ logged hours with grants, which they can donate to a chosen charity.
“I love it — I don't feel as though I have that many opportunities in my life to give back, and I work a full-time gig and it’s difficult to find time to do things where I’m not necessarily stepping away from my family,” Intenzo said. “I can do this and be at home, so for me that’s my thing. … I love the opportunity to give something back without taking away form something else.”
“I think about it as pay-it-forward,” Hamilton said. “I have joy to make this item and put it out into the world and hope it brings joy to someone else.”