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Taking Cover

Gowanda Grad’s Business A Gift To Needy

Benton Carter is seen holding one of the blankets he sells with his business.

GOWANDA — “I choose to rise up out of that storm and see that in moments of desperation, fear and helplessness, each of us can be a rainbow of hope, doing what we can to extend ourselves in kindness and grace to one another. And I know for sure that there is no them – there’s only us.” – Oprah Winfrey.

Carter Benton, a 2016 Gowanda graduate, has started his own business. Johnnie’s Blankets is an online shop that sells blankets while also helping those less fortunate.

Benton started the business this year in a class in the VentureWorks Entrepreneurship Program with Steve Brookstein at the State University of New York at Geneseo.

Benton’s major at Geneseo is business administration with a marketing minor. He recently turned 22. He was a three-sport athlete, playing baseball, basketball, and football, but he enjoys playing any recreational sport there is. He enjoys being outdoors and loves that he grew up near Zoar Valley where there’s plenty of places to hike and raft. Recently, he has found intramural broomball to be a favorite whilst in college.

Along with his avid sports background, Benton also has a history of volunteering. This is what led to his business venture. Two years ago he began volunteering for a peer mentoring group in New York. The group matched children diagnosed with a mental health disorder to an older student in order to help build a friendship.

Johnnie’s Blankets has prepared orders to be sent out.

“I was matched with an 11-year-boy who showed me his harsh reality. Even the most intelligent sixth-graders are sometimes swallowed up by the tough situations they have been put in,” Benton said. “Johnnie would invite me over to watch TV with his dad and older brother. There we were, four guys huddled together on one couch in front of three electric space heaters, bundled up with winter coats inside, in January.”

Benton went on to explain that Johnnie’s father liked to share stories with the boys while they spent time together. He made sure that he could offer Benton dinner when he came over and always shoveled the snow off the driveways of his elderly neighbors.

“Something did not feel right. … No one seemed to be looking out for him while he was always looking out for others,” Benton said. “In a small way, Johnnie’s Blankets hopes to change that.”

What also inspired him, besides Johnnie, was volunteering in general and realizing that not only the homeless struggle with staying warm during the winter. “Many families have stories of hard times,” Benton said. “But seeing one of the worst ones I’ve heard of right in front of me was heartbreaking.”

This is why Benton has decided to not only donate a blanket with every order purchased on the website, but to match each blanket bought with a blanket donated. So far, Johnnie’s Blankets will be donating about 50 blankets after the pre-order phase is finished on Oct. 30. They will be donating blankets to Saint’s Place in Pittsford. “They have asked for bed blankets so we are donating blankets that are large enough to cover beds there,” he said. He also has plans to donate to the Buffalo City Mission, St. Luke’s Mission of Mercy in Buffalo, and St. Peter’s Soup Kitchen in Rochester once they have enough blankets to donate.

Besides providing a warm blanket for those in need, Benton hopes to bring good people together through his business. One of the ways he plans to do this is through the Johnnie’s Blankets “FAMily.” Every purchase receives a letter “F”, “A”, or “M” in the package. If someone that received an “F” finds two others with an “A” and “M”, then they have found their Johnnie’s Blankets FAMily and all three will receive a small Christmas gift.

“COVID-19 has put stress on people financially and socially,” Benton said. “Johnnie’s Blankets will try to offer a positive way to interact with one another and help those that will need it most this winter.”

The shop and more information can be found at johnniesblankets.com. The business is also on Facebook, under “Johnnie’s Blankets.”

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