Camille Ng volunteered at orphanages as a teenager, where she witnessed drastic conditions that left children shivering and neglected.
The issue of neglected foster children resonated with Ng, a second-year biology student, because she was an orphan herself. This is what prompted her to create Hugs in a Blanket, a club that makes and donates fleece blankets to groups such as underprivileged children, veterans’ homes and hospitals. Ng founded the club in 2016 during her junior year of high school and launched a chapter at UCLA in October to continue helping underprivileged communities.
“It’s very sad to see those conditions – you want to help but can’t because of time,” Ng said. “I could’ve been in that situation for a lot of my life.”
The members of the club can quickly see the impact on each individual child or veteran, Ng said.
“One little girl had trouble sleeping at night. She told us that her blanket made her feel safe,” Ng said. “Another teenage boy said that our blanket was the only thing keeping him warm.”
The blankets provide more than just physical warmth; they are a symbol of love and affection, Ng said. She added the handmade blankets and personalized cards provide comfort, letting children and veterans know that there are people who care about them.
Melissa Palacios, a second-year sociology and Spanish student, is one of the initial signatories who helped Ng found the club. She has been involved in making and distributing blankets.
“Without a blanket, it’s like they’re not being protected. The blankets show that there are people to care, protect them,” Palacios said. “That’s the most significant part.”
According to the Alliance for Children’s Rights, there are about 28,000 children living in foster care in the county. The Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority reported there were an additional 5,000 experiencing homelessness in 2017. Poverty can affect children’s social and emotional health, putting them at risk of many consequences such as higher dropout rates or drug abuse. Hugs in a Blanket plays a role in providing them with a sense of belonging and community, Palacios said.
“Those people are forgotten. We show them that they are not alone,” Ng said. “They feel loved even if they don’t have a lot.”
Members of the club spend their time cutting fabric and tying strips together to make fleece blankets. Since Ng founded the first chapter at her high school, Hugs in a Blanket has already donated over 1,500 blankets to those in need.
By interacting directly with underprivileged youth and veterans, members become more in touch with their community, Palacios said. Students may visit foster homes or orphanages that lack basic living supplies such as blankets or clothing.
In order to purchase the materials needed, Hugs in a Blanket engages in various fundraising activities including recycling and catalog sales. Recently, the club organized its first fundraiser of the year with UCLA Spark, the university’s crowdfunding platform. They received $3,100 in donations in just a few days. The club also accepts donations of materials or finished blankets.
Ashley Ngor, a second-year biology student, is a member who has been active in promoting the fundraiser. The club’s original goal was $1,200.
“To be honest, I didn’t even think we’d pass the first goal. But we reached it in the first day and we ended up having to stretch it two more times,” Ngor said. “I didn’t expect that much support from family, friends and even strangers.”
These funds are directed toward the club’s next projects, the William J. “Pete” Knight Veterans Home of California – Lancaster, the UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and the Carlson Home-Hospital School, where they plan on donating nearly 200 blankets.
Ng visited the veterans home when her mother volunteered there last year and was inspired to contribute to the home as well.
“Most people know someone who is a veteran or has been hospitalized. It’s always nice to do things for vets,” Ng said. “And the (Mattel Children’s Hospital) is perfect because it’s right in UCLA.”
Hugs in a Blanket provides more than just physical blankets. Through direct interactions with disadvantaged communities, members become more aware of issues of poverty. In January, the club worked with a fifth-grade class to make over 140 blankets to help the students become more socially aware.
“I see more ads for animals and shelters than for actual humans. I think that animals are important, but people in society really deserve to be cared for,” Ng said. “People don’t know that there are people in need.”
In addition to expanding their reach on campus by increasing membership and working space, members of Hugs in a Blanket also said they plan to work with local communities beyond UCLA.
“Right now we’re stuck in a small room in Ackerman (Union). We’re trying to get more people involved in the future,” Ng said. “My dream is to convert it eventually into a nonprofit organization.”