Honoring loved ones by blanketing hospital patients, families

More than 1,000 blankets were donated for "Blankets from Joe." (Jonathon Hosea)

HAMILTON COUNTY, Ind. (WTHR) – Instead of leaving a seat at the Thanksgiving dinner table in honor of their late father, two Hamilton County sisters are making sure patients at the hospital stay warm over the holidays.

They created "Blankets from Joe" in memory of their father.

Joe DeFranco is the inspiration behind "Blankets from Joe." (Theresa Owens)

Joe DeFranco died in 2016. He was 75 and after decades of fighting heart disease, he passed away from a heart attack. His two daughters, Theresa Owens and Michele Durthaler, remember sitting by his hospital beds the week of Thanksgiving in the days before he died. They were saying goodbye and were very uncomfortable.

“One of the things we really remembered about that time in the hospital is that we were always cold,” Owens said.

So the next year, during the holidays, the sisters decided to give back and do something their dad did well, remember those who had died. The sisters wanted to wrap the patients and families at the hospital with warm blankets.

Every donated blanket is tagged with a name, in memory of someone the donor loved.

More than 1,000 blankets were donated through "Blankets from Joe" in 2019. (Jonathon Hosea)

“It has been really neat to see the grassroots effort behind this," Owen said. "Either people relate to the experience of being in the hospital and being cold, or they have a loved one and they want to keep their memory alive."

Jack Kelleher (back left) and his family (Kristin Runkel Kelleher)

The first year the sisters donated 500 blankets; it grew to 775 the next year and today at IU Health Methodist Hospital, DeFranco's daughters, sons-in-law and eight grandchildren distributed a record 1,127 blankets. The blankets stuffed in bags and boxes filled a box truck and required a series of carts to distribute.

The donations comfort the donors, providing a positive way to work through grief.

Nearly 350 blankets this year came from the swim team at Westfield High School in memory of classmate Jack Kelleher, 16, who died of cancer in 2018.

Other donations came from the Westfield cheerleaders in honor of their coach Katlyn “Kat” Rae Stevenson who died last month as well as the Westfield volleyball team, football team and girls' basketball team.

Westfield cheerleaders donated in memory of Katlyn “Kat” Rae Stevenson. (Katlyn "Kat" Rae Stevenson)

While the recipients may not grasp the whole story of “Blankets from Joe”, they can benefit immediately.

“The last person that we gave a blanket to was a sweet little older woman. When I turned back around, she was covered neck to feet and said ‘I’ve been so cold.’ And I thought, good, this is exactly why we do it” Owens said. “I think my dad would have a big smile on his face, and he would think it was great!”