Imagine you’re eight or nine years old and living in Africa. You have nothing. Perhaps no mother or father. Not even clean water.
And one day, a dusty truck rolls into the middle of your village, stops and begins to unload boxes. As the boxes are unpacked, you spot strange colourful little knitted people in the boxes. The wool is bright, as are the smiles on their faces. Suddenly, one is being handed to you. It’s the first gift you’ve ever received. You have no idea why and how this is being handed to you, this treasure. Who made it? Where did it come from? It’s soft and squishy. You hug it to yourself. It’s the best thing ever.
Given that Elaine, a resident of Summerhill PARC knits about 25 Comfort Dolls each month, it could well be one of hers.
I sat with Elaine recently in her view suite at Summerhill PARC to get the scoop on these Comfort Dolls. One of the first items she showed me was her meticulous and detailed record-keeping of the number of dolls she’s made, dating back to 2006. “It says here, I’ve made 3,385 dolls to date.”
Wow. Really? Yes, really. That’s a lot of needle clacking.
Elaine takes the ‘mass production’ approach. “When I started making these with my craft group, I designed an easier version right away. To me, it’s about volume… getting as many dolls to as many children as possible.” Now, she has it down to a science. It takes her no more than an hour and a half to complete one from start to finish.
The International Community for the Relief of Suffering and Starvation (ICROSS) is very grateful. They deliver the dolls and other much needed supplies to places like Kenya, Guatemala and Haiti.
Doing things for others has always been a theme in Elaine’s life. “I’ve always had my hands busy, knitting or sewing kids’ clothes, and I volunteered for all of four of my kids’ sports and musical endeavours,” she told me.
And at 90, Elaine shows no signs of slowing down. “The minute you lose interest in life, you may as well pack up your tent and call it a day.” she said with a laugh.
Her hands aren’t the only things that stay busy. Elaine hits the onsite gym five times a week, despite a knee replacement three years ago. She also takes part in the “Welcoming Group” for new residents and participates in many of the events and social activities through PARC’s Independent Living+ program.
So what do these Comfort Dolls do for Elaine? She talks about how important it is to be interested in and present in today’s world, about a will to live long and healthy, and remain active and engaged in a hobby or vocation.
So yes, it’s wonderful to know the children are getting such joy and comfort from the dolls she makes. But I’d like to suggest Elaine gets something equally as precious: her own continued happiness and well-being.