By JUDY SHERARD

jsherard@dailynews.net

Families staying at the Ronald McDonald House in Wichita will have a new handcrafted blanket in which to wrap their "bundle of joy" thanks to a group at the Quilt Cottage.

On Friday, the informal knitting group donated 40 hand-knitted and crocheted blankets to Allyson Flax, Trystan Knapp and Rylie Rowland's Hays High School DECA project to benefit the house in Wichita.

"They're all baby blankets for the Ronald McDonald House. They actually contacted us. It was really, really cool that we're able to start something new this year with the Quilt Cottage," Knapp said.

"So many families come to the Ronald McDonald House, and it happens in a hurry for one reason or another, or they can't afford a blanket for their newborn baby or their sick babies," said Gail Kuehl, who, along with her husband Rick, owns McDonald's in Hays, Russell, WaKeeney and Colby. "This is one way we can reach out and help them when they have a crisis in their lives."

The knitting group started approximately 10 or 12 years ago after the Quilt Cottage added yarn to its stock and hired Yeyette Houfek to help with knitting questions and help beginners get started, Quilt Cottage owner Kari Schultz said.

"They started bringing in their projects to work on, and it became kind of a social group. They've been meeting here for three days a week for several years," Schultz said.

When it became difficult for member Bessie Apostolas, now in her 90s, to come to the shop, the group started meeting at her home on Tuesdays.

"Some of these gals knit together four days a week," Schultz said.

Donating the blankets to the Ronald McDonald House is a way to honor Apostolas, who's such a bign part of their group, she said.

"We've had as many as 20 and as few as six," in the group, said Houfek, who's been knitting since she was 5.

It took the group approximately three months to make the 40 blankets, and they plan to continue to donate blankets to the house.

"Hays High DECA classes have been involved with the Ronald McDonald House for 14 years," Knapp said earlier this year.

The project also includes collecting pull tabs off cans and items on the Ronald McDonald House's wish list. Last year, they collected 1.5 million pull tabs.

Hays High DECA students plan to take the blankets to the Ronald McDonald House in January.