One blanket at a time: A desire to help child refugees grows to global effort

Julie Farr once asked herself, “What can one person do?” The result is more than 5,000 blankets sent to people around the world. 

Farr and her family began Hearts Tied Together in 2016 with the hope to give a fleece tied blanket and warm welcome note to refugee children who were settling in Utah. Now it has become a non-profit charitable organization that collects blankets to supply to people and groups of all ages in need.

The blankets come with a personally written card or note to “tie” the donor with the recipient and the recipient to the donor.

Personal cards and notes are attached to each fleece blanket, to “tie” the donor to the recipient, and the recipient to the donor for the Hearts Tied Together project. Dec. 2021.
Personal cards and notes are attached to each fleece blanket, to “tie” the donor to the recipient, and the recipient to the donor for the Hearts Tied Together project. Dec. 2021. Credit: Julie Farr

“We have pictures of donor cards that have made us smile and some that have brought tears.  We have pictures of blankets that have made us ‘ooh’ and ‘aah.’ We recognize that without the help of thousands of donors, this organization would not be possible,” said Farr.

Sister Reyna I. Aburto, second counselor in the Relief Society general presidency, recently featured Farr’s service project on her social media accounts

Sister Aburto shared a picture of one of the donor cards on Facebook and Instagram and wrote, “Although they will never meet in person, I love that these notes help those who serve and those who receive feel closer to each other. These sisters are just one example of how we can lift and serve others — either across the world or in our own communities.”

Sister Aburto then asked for people to share any service projects they have participated in recently. Farr spoke to the Church News about how her service project grew.

“The organization was started with the belief that we are all tied together as children of God, and that one person can make a difference in the life of another,” said Farr, who is a member of the Pleasant View 3rd Ward in the Pleasant View Utah Stake.

The seeds of service

Julie Farr had the seeds of service planted in her heart when she was a missionary in Bangkok. Thailand in the early 1980s. This picture was taken June 1981.
Julie Farr had the seeds of service planted in her heart when she was a missionary in Bangkok. Thailand in the early 1980s. This picture was taken June 1981. Credit: Julie Farr

Farr served in the Thailand Bangkok Mission in the early 1980s and was assigned to teach among Southeast Asian refugees in the Phanat Nikhom Camp, as part of the Welfare Services Unit for Refugees in Thailand. The experience planted the seeds of service and love for refugees. And it led her to ask the question “What can one person do?” during the refugee crisis of 2015-2016.

Farr heard two talks in April 2016 general conference, the first from Sister Linda K. Burton, “I Was a Stranger,” and the second from Elder Patrick Kearon, “Refuge from the Storm.”  Elder Dieter F. Uchtdorf, then second counselor in the First Presidency, then made tearful remarks about his own experience as a refugee, and Farr knew she needed to act upon the impressions she received.

That same evening the idea for the organization came to her, along with its name of “Hearts Tied Together.”  Farr and her family set up the website and other tools they needed to spread the word about the project. Then they started collecting blankets to distribute them where they are needed. 

Students, Church groups, youth conferences, Boy Scouts, families, community and civic groups and many others have tied fleece blankets to donate to Hearts Tied Together over the last five years. The organization also accepts any new blanket of any kind. 

“Each blanket is donated with love, and I can feel that as I receive the blankets,” Farr said.

Divine intervention

In 2016, Hearts Tied Together responded to a request for help for Armenians from the Armenian Apostolic Church of Salt Lake City. That began their partnership, and in the last five years, 3,197 blankets have been sent to Armenia. 

This past summer, Farr posted a project on JustServe.org to collect more blankets for Armenians. She hoped for 500 — and got 1,379 blankets in return, more than double the amount. Those blankets were given to refugees, newborns, an orphanage, pediatric hospital wing and to a shelter for abused women and children in Armenia. 

Julie Farr posted her blanket project on JustServe.org and received more than double the amount she had hoped for in return. The blankets were sent to Armenia in the summer of 2021.
Julie Farr posted her blanket project on JustServe.org and received more than double the amount she had hoped for in return. The blankets were sent to Armenia in the summer of 2021. Credit: Julie Farr

Collecting, cataloging and then shipping that many blankets at once was quite the task for Farr and her family. The organization is mainly Julie Farr, her husband, Dennis Farr, and their daughters, Lindsay Farr Harper and Alexis Farr Silva. They say they know divine intervention helped make the shipments possible.

“We couldn’t have done this major of a project in such a short time without help from friends and family throughout the state of Utah, who acted as collection points in St. George, Cedar City, Springville, Provo, Salt Lake City, Bountiful and Ogden. We had a miracle story in getting blankets from St. George to Salt Lake City to make the shipment with just hours to spare. An answer to prayers,” Farr said.

One blanket at a time

In the United States, the Hearts Tied Together blankets have been donated to Catholic Community Services, International Rescue Committee, Utah Refugee Connection, Your Community Connection, Family Promise, Youth Futures, Lantern House, police departments, NPHY (for homeless youth in Las Vegas), Curt’s Cuddles and Christmas Box House

From the beginning, Farr wanted all the blankets to be cataloged. She has kept track of the donor or group name, the size of blanket and any special messages. And she said some of the notes have been the best part of it.

Julie Farr's husband Dennis has hauled hundreds of blankets in and out of trucks and up and down stairs ever since the Hearts Tied Together non-profit began in 2016.
Julie Farr’s husband Dennis has hauled hundreds of blankets in and out of trucks and up and down stairs ever since the Hearts Tied Together non-profit began in 2016. Credit: Julie Farr

Donors are encouraged to download the donation cards from the Hearts Tied Together website, then write a personal message on it to attach to their blanket. Farr said many of those notes have been tender and profound. If blankets are donated without a tag, the Farrs write their own note. Younger children will sometimes draw a picture for the recipient.

“I am often reminded of my initial thought, ‘What can one person do?’” said Farr. “My answer now goes to each individual who has contributed to this project with, ‘Each person can make a difference, and has made a difference — one blanket at a time. Thank you.’”