Janet Levinson joined The Wetlands Institute Quilters when she moved to Stone Harbor full-time 11 years ago, after retiring from teaching 7th grade science and high school biology in upstate New York.

“Living down here is like living in an environmental park,” she said of the Jersey Shore. She had always sewn, but quilting was something she wanted to learn. By joining the weekly quilting group, she learned a new skill and helped an environmental organization with a strong educational mission.

The group is one of many in the area that allow crafters to help nonprofit organizations while doing something they love. The Wetlands Institute group has also provided a way for quilters to take their art to a higher level, and gain national recognition.

The group’s quilts are raffled off each year after the group’s Wings ‘n Water festival, and raise between $2,000 and $4,000 annually, Levinson said. Two of the group’s designs – “Wild Wings” and “Leaf Prints” – were featured in “Great American Quilts 1989,” by Oxmoor House in Birmingham, Ala.

Levinson learned the craft from the late Marion Glaspey, the institute’s first director who was the quilt designer for years, and Maggie Crisman.

Crisman is now the group’s designer.

“She gets an idea in her mind, and we run with it,” Levinson said of Crispin. “Everybody contributes. We’re all very good friends, and we’re there for each other.” Last year the group created a quilt called “Turtle Release,” inspired by the Institute’s program to save the eggs of dead diamondback terrapins, incubate them, intensively feed the babies and release them when they have a fighting chance to survive.

The ages of group members range from 50 to the 80s, she said.

Now Levinson is a group leader, helping teach others how to quilt when they join the group of about 30 women.

Across the bay at Cape Regional Medical Center in Cape May Court House, another group knits and crochets for the year-old Patient Comfort Shawl Program.

About 25 volunteers made more than 700 shawls in the program’s first year, said Volunteer Director Julie Paolella, of Galloway Township. Crocheters mostly work on their own at home. The shawls are given to patients, and each item has a hand-sewn label stating that the gift was made by their friends at Cape Regional Medical Center. The labels were donated by a staff member who wants to remain anonymous, she said.

Doris Knickerbocker, of Villas, crochets with fellow errand runners as they sit in the volunteer room between assignments. She also makes the shawls at home in the evening.

“I can’t just sit in a chair and do nothing. My fingers have to be going,” she said. “Our rewards come when we see patients sitting in beds and sometimes have our shawls wrapped around their shoulders.”

She said each shawl uses 15 ounces of yarn, and she can “knock one out in three days, at night.” She is grateful that staff and community members donate yarn to the hospital for volunteers to use. “Or it would be an expensive thing to do,” she said.

Every Monday Knickerbocker crochets at the hospital with Gladys Anderson of Sea Isle City and Joan Troiano of Wildwood.

“It’s a beautiful group. We crochet in between errands, and we get a lot of laughs,” she said.

The program started when Paolella read about volunteers who make prayer shawls for churches.

“We thought it would be a welcome amenity for patients. They go through the halls for testing. Because of blood thinners, people have different temperature preferences,” Paolella said, adding they are also used as lap blankets by infusion and chemotherapy patients, and people in wheelchairs.

Paolella said volunteers have contributed almost 15,000 hours of knitting and crocheting service since starting 2001.

“Our caring clown is a knitter, as is our golf cart driver,” she said. A neighbor in Galloway Township has knitted about 100 baby blankets for the hospital, she said.

Paolella brings all the knitting and crocheting volunteers to the hospital about twice a year to display the items and meet the staff.

Although the comfort shawl program is just a year old, Knickerbocker has been crocheting baby items for the hospital gift shop for about 10 years. She lost count a long time ago of how many things she’s made. But Knickerbocker still gets excited when she sees a baby wearing her handiwork.

“It makes you feel so good, like a million dollars,” she said.