If you follow the original “What’s Up Mint Hill?” Facebook group, you may be familiar with Mayra Caraballo, who often voices requests for donated yarn and fabric.
Caraballo, also known as “the scarf lady,” is dedicated to helping the homeless one scarf at a time. She proudly shows off crocheted, knitted and sewn creations pieced together from yarn remnants and fabric scraps donated by the Mint Hill community.
Caraballo began making scarves only last November. “I was looking for something in my sewing kit, and I forgot what it was,” says Caraballo, “I found the crochet [hook], and I found a little piece of yarn, and I made a little scarf.”
When temperatures threatened to drop to dangerous lows in December, “I started knitting and knitting,” says Caraballo. “I said, ‘Let’s go look for people.’” Caraballo literally took her scarves to the streets, offering them to the homeless around Wal-Mart in Monroe. In January, she visited the homeless shelter in Monroe and was able to hand out more scarves.
Caraballo was taken aback by the enthusiastic response her scarves received. “They make me feel so welcome!” she says. “People say, ‘You made this?’ and when they smile, that’s the main thing. The thank you, and the smile, and the blessing that I feel I get.”
Caraballo thinks carefully about the functionality of her creations. Her scarves always have pockets for warming one’s hands and storing belongings. The fluffy scarves can be folded over and used as a pillow or a cushion to sit on. But it’s also important to Caraballo that the people she calls her “homeless neighbors” have something beautiful, offering scarves that match their clothing or other belongings.
Caraballo currently works with three different local churches – Philadelphia Presbyterian, Blair Road United Methodist, and St. Luke’s – making and distributing scarves for the homeless. She also belongs to several local knitting groups including one at Hobby Lobby in Matthews, Project Linus at the Mint Hill Library and Helping Hands of Mint Hill. Between her various crafting groups and her own work, Caraballo claims she spends most of her waking hours every day knitting, crocheting and sewing.
Caraballo’s talents go beyond just making scarves. I caught up with Caraballo at a meeting of women from Philadelphia Presbyterian church making prayer shawls, which are gifted to individuals with a serious illness, new babies, those who have had a death in the family – anyone who has experienced a major life change. The prayer shawls group started less than four years ago and to date has made and gifted over 550 shawls.
At the prayer shawl meeting, Caraballo was using a round knitting loom to make a hat. The hats Caraballo is making will be given to Claire’s Army, a charity that provides meals and care packages for families at Novant facing childhood cancer. Earlier in the morning at Hobby Lobby, Caraballo worked on hats that will go to Jamaica. Caraballo is hoping to expand her work into making backpacks, crossbody bags and totes to distribute to the homeless.
You might think that Caraballo has been knitting and sewing all her life, but she only learned to use her sewing machine in January. Caraballo’s mom was a gifted seamstress, but Caraballo herself was never allowed to touch her machine. “I would stand in front of her, and I learned how to do the inside out, upside down, how to turn the fabric,” said Caraballo. “I’m talking about 40 years ago! But it’s like riding a bicycle. When I sat down with my newfound crochet needle, I’m like, ‘Oh, I still know how to do this!”
Although knitting, crocheting and sewing are new to her, volunteering has always been important to Caraballo. “My sister-in-law died of cancer 18 years ago,” says Caraballo. “When you’re at the hospital and they tell you there is no hope, you’re like, ‘What can we do?’ There is nothing. Just wait and pray. So since then I started growing my hair.”
Approximately every two and a half years, Caraballo donates her hair to locks of love. During her 32 years living in California, Caraballo worked hands on with a dozen different charities. When Caraballo and her husband relocated to Mint Hill less than two years ago, she was immediately intent on getting involved and meeting people through volunteer work.
To others who want to get more involved in charitable work, Caraballo encourages them to simply reach out. “They can do anything!” she says. “They can donate, they can get in touch with any church. Any church has volunteering programs. Non profits, anything. You can even go to a park and talk to the homeless, give them whatever you have.”
“We are all very lucky to have a roof over our head,” concludes Caraballo. “Many people don’t have that. There are people out there – human beings, veterans, kids, women – out there sleeping on the street.”