Volunteers are pictured with a blanket donated to Fleece & Thank You, a nonprofit that distributes blankets to hospitalized children.

Volunteers are pictured with a blanket donated to Fleece & Thank You, a nonprofit that distributes blankets to hospitalized children.

Photo provided by Alyssa Dorchak

Former Oakland University soccer player helps provide blankets for hospitalized children

By: Mark Vest | Metro | Published April 21, 2021

OAKLAND COUNTY — In 2015, Bloomfield Hills resident Nicholas Kristock got a text message from his twin sister that changed the course of his life.

After playing for Oakland University’s men’s soccer program, Kristock went on to play professionally in Australia from 2013-2015. It was as he was landing back in the United States in 2015 that he got the text. At the time, his sister worked at Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor, and she wanted him to make a blanket for a kid in the hospital.

Being “aggressively curious,” Kristock said, he began asking questions, such as, “how many blankets do you need, and how often do you need them?”

“I was scratching my head that one of the best children’s hospitals in the country wouldn’t have enough of something that they need,” Kristock said. “I picked up the phone that day and called every single children’s hospital in the state. And every one gave me the same answers — they all said, ‘We always need blankets, and we never have enough.’”

Having already worked with nonprofit organizations that helped hospitalized children when he was in Australia, Kristock said it was a cause that was “really close to my heart.”

His sister’s text and the responses he got from children’s hospitals about the lack of blankets inspired Kristock to want to do his part to help.

“I said, ‘I don’t know what I’m supposed to do with my life, but I know that I could start this. Let’s figure out how many kids get sick every year, and let’s make that many blankets,’” he said.

Kristock recalled that it was Oct. 1, 2015, that he got that text from his sister, and about five days later, he filed the paperwork to start a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization.

Fleece & Thank You is based in Farmington Hills, and since it started, the organization has come a long way.

“We’re in 22 hospitals and health systems across the state,” said Kristock, who is a graduate of Novi Detroit Catholic High School. “Basically, anywhere a child in the state of Michigan is (going to) go in and have to stay overnight, we’re there in some capacity providing blankets. And then we’ve also done work in 47 states around the country (and) 12 countries around the world.”

One of the locations the nonprofit delivers to is Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital.

Plymouth resident Alyssa Dorchak, who is the director of operations for F&TY, said the organization partners with Jo-Ann Fabrics to create blanket kits.

She said the blankets are made “in-house” and can be ordered on the organization’s website for a $25 donation, with F&TY facilitating deliveries to hospitals

Kristock discussed the quality control process the blankets go through prior to being delivered.

“In the last year, obviously, sanitation has been a huge question mark in every one’s daily life,” he said. “So, we acquired a hospital-grade washing and drying unit. All of our blankets are 99.999% germ-free when they come out of our warehouse. That standard of quality is unmatched anywhere in the country.”

From Dorchak’s perspective, F&TY’s impact on children goes “beyond the blanket.”

“It’s a blanket that lasts with them years after they go into the hospital,” she said. “It is almost like this vehicle that drives support for them in so many different ways — physically, mentally, emotionally, just to know that someone that’s essentially a stranger is outside of the hospital thinking of them. It might be something that seems small or maybe insignificant to some people, but when we get feedback from family and parents, and the kids, it means the world to them.”

The blankets provided by F&TY also come with “encouraging” video messages for children.

The organization has software that allows donors to make videos that can be uploaded to its website.

Dorchak said there’s a screen patch on the blankets “that allows that video component to happen.”

“With every single blanket that gets delivered, there’s a video message of support, and then that child can also send a video message back to say thank you,” Dorchak said.

Kristock also shared some thoughts about the video messages the blankets contain.

“Even more than just the color and the comfort, I knew from working with kids how badly they needed the connection,” he said. “Because for a lot (of) kids, they go in for the first week or two, people will call, visit or message, but then we go back to our routine, and those kids are still in the room. … That’s where the concept of the video message came into play. From the very beginning, every single Fleece & Thank You blanket has carried a video message.”

Kristock said the videos are reviewed and approved to make sure they contain appropriate content.

Dorchak said FT&Y has four paid workers and another individual who is “like a full-time volunteer.”

She estimated that, last year, over 10,000 blankets were made, and the goal this year is 13,500.

How far the organization has come is something not even Kristock saw coming.

“I was dead-set convinced that my full purpose in life was to work for Make-A-Wish, and I was applying for Make-A-Wishes all across the country,” he said. “I started this not even thinking that it was (going to) turn into my life at some point, but this continued to take off, and Make-A-Wish wasn’t calling back, so I started building this. Three times since then, Make-A-Wish has called to offer a position, but the first time I turned them down, that was when I really knew, ‘We’re doing this thing. We’re in it for the long run.’”

Kristock said the impact FT&Y has had is “huge.”

“We have patients and families tell us that, in what is otherwise the darkest time of their life, when they walk into the room and see that blanket waiting on the bed, it’s their first reason to hope that things are (going to) be all right,” he said. “And then, when they get to watch that video message, it’s one of their first reasons to smile during a day, when it’s someone on the other end that’s energetic, positive and inspirational. It makes a huge difference (for) those families. They never forget the person that made that piece of comfort for them.”

What Kristock has done to help children and families has also helped bring fulfillment to his life.

“I think I’ve been able to figure out that the reason, at least right now, I was put on this planet is to build this,” he said. “If this means that every single kid in the hospital starts their journey on the right foot, who knows how many different treatment journeys could change because there’s a piece of hope and comfort waiting on the bed, versus the alternative? I think I found my purpose, and I’m excited to do it every day.”

Individuals or groups that want to contribute blankets or schedule an event can do so by visiting fleeceandthankyou.org.