Twice a day, Shira Blumenthal has become a calming presence for her followers who join her for Facebook Live knitting sessions while they're practicing social distancing.
It's about “having that opportunity not only to talk to someone, but see someone," she told TODAY. "I’m cooped up in my apartment in Manhattan with my two cats. I am quarantining and haven’t seen any people and it’s hard for me."
Blumenthal hosts her live knitting sessions on the Lion Brand Yarn Facebook page. Blumenthal is the fifth generation in her family to work in the business.
For her, knitting is "like therapy."
"I have always turned to it in times of stress," she said.
And it's sorely needed right now during the COVID-19 pandemic, she said, which has created uncertainty around the world.
“I really feel more than ever, this is one moment in life when we are all feeling the same thing, this blue thread that is going through all of us," she said. "Being scared, stressed, tired. Happy to be with your family, but also like, 'Oh my, I’m with my family!'"
Before the coronavirus, Blumenthal had built a community through her #HatNotHate movement. The New Yorker said she was severely bullied in fourth grade. As an adult, she was inspired to do something to help others.
#HatNotHate asks people to knit blue hats, the official color for anti-bullying, and then donate them to schools. Last year, Blumenthal collected more than 23,000 hats. This year, she set her goal at 100,000.
“With those hats, they went to over 60 schools in over 30 states. We were able to communicate these hats were made with love and children are being seen and heard and we can all be kind to each other," she said.
During the coronavirus shutdown, Blumenthal plans to have some celebrity guests join her to talk as she knits. On her first week of Facebook Lives, Blumenthal was joined by Vanna White, who is an avid knitter.
“I have known Vanna pretty much my whole life. She was on 'The Johnny Carson Show' a long time ago and my father reached out because she said she loved to crochet. He sent her yarn," Blumenthal said. She said the "Wheel of Fortune" star is "the sweetest person ever."
On March 30, Blumenthal will be joined by "Saturday Night Live" star, Melissa Villaseñor, who has also been knitting on her Instagram Live account.
While Blumenthal is happy to give tutorials on knitting, she's equally grateful to anyone who wants to tune in and watch or spread the word about #HatNotHate to someone who knits and may want to donate a hat.
Based on Centers for Disease Control guidance, she said #HatNotHate is still accepting donations.
"COVID-19 is thought to be spread mainly from person-to-person, and while it may be possible for someone to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface or object, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads," said a bulletin on the #HatNotHate site.
While people are stuck inside, she said she hopes her Facebook Live broadcasts help people feel a sense of community and know that they're not alone. Knitting certainly isn't a requirement for joining.
“People just need a fun, funky 30 minutes of their day," she said. "And we're able to give that to them."