This article originally published on Oct. 10, 2003.
Diane Neff doesn't smile for cameras.
You get the feeling that Diane doesn't smile unless she really means it.
She used to tell her students upfront she was mean so that they wouldn't waste anybody's time pointing it out.
If they only knew...
Now that Diane has retired from her job as an occupational therapist for the Omaha Public Schools, she spends most of her time making blankets.
Beautiful, soft, cuddly blankets for children who are sick or sick at heart.
When she's not traveling, Diane makes a blanket a day for Project Linus. She's made 918 blankets since she started six or seven years ago.
Project Linus has never caught on in the Omaha area as much it has in some parts of the state. The charity's goal is to give homemade blankets to children who are seriously ill or traumatized.
But there aren't enough blankets donated in Omaha and Council Bluffs to keep up with the hospitals here.
Local coordinator Ginny DeBates figures about 135 blankets have been donated in the Omaha area since May. Of those, 120 were made by Diane.
Diane agreed to talk to me, not to draw attention to her own awesome blanketing, but to recruit more blanketeers.
Even if you can't make blankets yourself, Diane would love to take extra fabric or supplies off your hands. Fabric, yarn, crochet thread, sewing thread, batting — she can use it all.
She hates to think about the wonderful fabric that's thrown away when people clean out their mothers' or grandmothers' sewing rooms.
Don't throw it away! Call Project Linus (212-3975). Diane will pick up the supplies and do all the sorting. (She'll feel like a kid in a candy store.)
Project Linus — named after the blanket — loving Peanuts character, of course — accepts any homemade, washable blanket made with new materials.
The hand-tied fleece blankets that children can make are popular donations in other places, DeBates said. It's unusual, she said, for donated blankets to be as beautiful and ornate as Diane's.
A layman would call Diane's blankets quilts. She uses quilting pieces and patterns. But she hand-ties the blankets. She doesn't quilt them. So she calls them comforters. She crochets and knits blankets, too.
As she works, she plans which colors and patterns she'll use for her next blanket. And she thinks about what sort of child will choose it.
"Not all of them are important to the kids. I figure some of them will end up as the dog's blanket."
But some of the blankets will be special. Some will become security blankets and blankies.
Once, at a fabric store, a woman asked Diane what she was making with the fabric she bought. Diane told her about Project Linus, and the woman said that she had one of those blankets herself.
Her twins were born early, and one had died in the hospital. The baby had been given a Project Linus blanket.
"That was the only thing that baby owned," Diane said. "That's the only thing she (the mother) has to remember it by."
She likes to think about her own blankets touching someone that way.
If Diane Neff ever tells you she's mean ... don't believe her for a minute.
In the metro area, Project Linus blankets can be dropped off at: the Country Sampler stores, at 120th Street and West Center Road in Omaha and 841 Tara Plaza in Papillion; Bergan Mercy Medical Center, pastoral services; and Kanesville Quilting, 19851 Virginia Hills Road in Council Bluffs.