Imagine you are out and about around Pittsburgh, and you stumble upon a hand-knitted heart along with a message that brightens your day.
Spreading kindness through creativity is the mission of the PGH Handmade Hearts initiative. According to Barbara Grossman, the ingredients that go into it are a combination of creative expression and love.
"It's just to foster compassion for those impacted by acts of violence and hatred, as well as to discourage future acts of this nature," Grossman says.
Back in 2005, Grossman founded the annual Pittsburgh Knit & Crochet Festival, which brings people from the creative arts world together in Greentree. It began as a fundraiser for the Waldorf School of Pittsburgh, and eventually led to the creation of PGH Handmade Hearts.
A small tag is placed on each creation that says “If you find this heart it’s yours to keep. Or you can pass it on.”
“Maybe if somebody's having a really rotten day and they find a heart at a bus stop or in a library or a coffee shop or a grocery store, they'll pick it up read this nice little kind message,” Grossman says. “It might change their attitude.”
She says she was moved to help promote love over hate by recent events here in Pittsburgh.
“The Tree of Life tragedy was the catalyst for the Handmade Hearts ... it shook me really to my core and I felt like I needed to do something," she said.
As the initiative has caught the attention of other caring groups and individuals, material donations have flowed in from various businesses. Grossman says she seeks volunteers at the festival and through her website to help spread the positive messages.
“It could be clay, it can be wooden, wire, fabric hearts or quilted,” she says. “They're sewn, they're hand sewn, there are string hearts.”
Helping Barbara with the initiative is her husband Randy, who, back in the 1970s, won four Super Bowls as a tight end with the Steelers. These days, he assists his wife with the creation of PGH Handmade Hearts. He says the creativity and meaning behind such work should be all inclusive.
“People are coming from all over the country for this, which initially was startling and now it's just par for the course,” he says. “This really is a populist thing. You don't have to submit these to anyone, there is no fundraising involved in this. This is as purely grassroots as grassroots can be. If you're moved by this, go ahead and make some hearts and distribute them.”
And as the hearts have been distributed and found throughout the community, Barbara has begun to hear feedback. She picks up a note she received and reads it aloud:
"It reads: 'Thank you for the gentle hearts with which you are peppering our city. I hope you never underestimate the power of a heart to make an indelible change. I'm proud to know you.'"
“Yeah, that's nice,” Barbara adds. “It means a lot."
A small piece to the effect of those handmade hearts, impressing upon people the importance of paying it forward and treating each other with a bit more kindness.
"I'm not doing this for myself,” she says. “I’m doing it just so that maybe it impresses upon people to pay it forward. Maybe this will have a ripple effect and maybe people will be kinder to each other."