Group making, selling necklaces to send troops care packages

WILLMAR -- When service men and women from the area open their Christmas packages this month, most will have no idea of the role played by a collection of handmade necklaces.

WILLMAR -- When service men and women from the area open their Christmas packages this month, most will have no idea of the role played by a collection of handmade necklaces.

The Willmar Chapter of Blue Star Mothers of America ships 30 to 40 packages a month to deployed service members.

For the past few months, the sale of beaded necklaces to hold ID badges has helped raise money to pay postage costs. A small group of Willmar women are behind the growing effort.

It started out fairly simply. Diane Clarke of Willmar saw a picture of a beaded necklace that would hold her Rice Hospital ID badge, and she wanted one.

"So I bought a kit," she said. "I put it together, and I didn't like it."


The longtime Girl Scout leader knew she had the beads and supplies left over from scout projects and could make her own. She decided to give it a try.

When she wore her creation to work, friends admired it. She made more and gave them to her co-workers.

That's when the wheels started turning for co-worker Phillis DeBlieck.

The women work together in the mental health unit at Rice, where Clarke is a mental health technician and DeBlieck is a registered nurse. DeBlieck, with two sons who are Marines, is president of the Blue Star Mothers in Willmar.

"I thought, 'I think this is going to catch on,'" DeBlieck said. She asked Clarke if she would make the necklaces and allow them to be sold for the benefit of the Blue Star Mothers.

"She was nice enough to say, 'Yes, we can do this,'" DeBlieck said, and they were in business.

Just a few

DeBlieck's instinct about the necklaces was on the mark.


"We were just going to make a few," Clarke said earlier this week, as she sat at her dining room table covered with neatly sorted boxes of beads.

But word of the necklaces spread. So far, the Blue Star Mothers have sold 35, with orders pending for another 15 to 20.

They've been popular with hospital employees. Willmar school employees, who also wear ID badges at work, have started buying them. DeBlieck's friend, Mary Ellen DeCathelineau, has helped with that.

DeCathelineau, who works in the office at the Area Learning Center, brought a few samples to school and started taking orders. So far, she's sold 15 to 20 of them in the school district, she said.

No one has complained about the $18 price, DeCathelineau said. In fact, some people have given her a $20 bill and donated the change to the Blue Star Mothers, too.

People often wonder what they can do to help service members who are deployed, she said, and the necklaces give them a way to do that.

The women said the ID necklaces they've seen in stores sell for more than $18, and they don't come with such personal service.

Clarke makes the necklaces to order. Buyers choose their own color combinations, the length and the type of beads. She can put different-sized clips on them, make them to hold glasses or attach a loop to hold an embroidery scissors.


"A lot of people want something specific," Clarke said, and she tries to follow their descriptions. "Then you hope when you give it to them that it's what they want." If it's not, she'll try again.

Even as she sat visiting at the table displaying her beads and supplies, Clarke's hands were busy laying out a necklace someone ordered and restringing another one.

Clarke said she keeps learning as she makes the necklaces, which take about an hour each. She has found wire that was stronger yet still flexible. Now, she's looking for some that might be even stronger. She had to experiment to find the right magnetic clasp, so that the necklaces would stay on securely yet give way if they were pulled or caught on something.

Along the way, she has acquired several gray, felt-covered boards with compartments for beads and grooves to hold necklaces in progress.

"I decided they might be a good thing to keep the beads from rolling around," she said, but "they still end up in the carpet. ... I was dreaming of picking up beads one night."

Clarke's daughter, Katherine, 12, has become her assistant and is picking up a bit of spending money, too. "It's hard to earn money when you're 12," her mother said. Katherine earns $6 for each one she makes. That money comes from the $12 Clarke receives for each necklace. The rest of the "profit" goes to pay for beads and other supplies.

Beading supplies aren't cheap, so she watches for sales. Sometimes, she takes apart old necklaces, and friends give her beads. She's found some supplies in local stores, but others she orders on the Internet.

DeBlieck does much of the marketing. "I even have guys that buy them," she said. Men favor red, white and blue beads, which is what DeBlieck also wears.


DeBlieck said she is thinking of raising the price to $20 to give the Blue Star Mothers enough profit from each necklace to pay the $8.10 cost of shipping a box.

Packed with care

The packages from the Blue Star Mothers contain magazines, snacks, drink mixes and other items that might be useful to those who are deployed.

The contents of each package vary depending on the circumstances of the person to receive it. For example, some request microwave popcorn, but others don't need it because they don't have access to a microwave.

The Blue Star Mothers seek donations and then purchase the rest of what they need for boxes. Volunteers often help pack the boxes at monthly meetings.

The packages are shipped primarily to deployed service members from the area. However, if the Blue Star Mothers learn of someone who doesn't get mail, they'll add him or her to the mailing list.

"It's all worthwhile, knowing they appreciate it," DeBlieck said.

What To Read Next
Get Local