Healthy Communities Y Stories YMCA Volunteers

How Edna’s decades of service shaped the Toronto Sheppard Y into the community it is today

Edna with two knit hats and a blanket

I’m sitting amidst busy knitting needles, piles of colourful pom-poms, a ton of coffee and cookies — and a group of women who’ve been meeting at the Toronto Sheppard Y for the past 16 years. Edna, who runs the show, matter-of-factly turns to tell me why she’s invited me to join the knitting club’s weekly gathering: “I want people to know what we’re doing. We don’t just sit here and knit!”

So here I am, trying to do justice to the truly impressive difference these women have made for so many people, in so many communities, over so many years.

Though I’m sure their loved ones have been gifted some nice cozy pieces over the years, the ladies assure me they’re not just knitting socks for their families (or whatever stereotypical snap judgment most of us jump to when we see the yarn come out). Rather, their weekly team meetings are dedicated to churning out hats, blankets, scarves, muffs, and countless other items that charitable organizations now rely on them to provide. Over the last 16 years, the group has produced somewhere around 5,000 pieces for countless good causes.

The club’s passionate dedication is an impressive sight to behold, so it’s no wonder that Edna and her compatriots are well known at the Toronto Sheppard Y. During our conversation, smiling Y members regularly saunter over to ask how she’s doing. After about the seventh time someone has stopped by to chat, Edna looks at me knowingly and says: “When I bring my granddaughter in here, she always asks, ‘Is there anyone here you don’t know?!’” The granddaughter and I think alike, apparently, and Edna explains who our most recent visitor was without missing a beat: “He says I was the very first person he ever met at the Y, way back in the day. I also met his daughter when she was too young to even walk. Now I still see her around here, and she’s full-grown! So I see children grow up here, start to finish. And I’ve grown up at the Toronto Sheppard Y too!”

The knitting club is not the only reason Edna knows just about everyone who walks by; she’s worked and volunteered at the Sheppard Y for decades. “I started just a few months after it opened, so I’ve been involved in this place from the start. My job was to basically help with everything!” She worked on children’s programs, then helped to facilitate the opening of the Child Care centre — “We used white chalk to draw out where everything was going to go,” she recalls — and eventually became the Women’s Plus supervisor. After decades of service, Edna found herself thinking about retirement — but also, looking for a way to keep herself active and surrounded by others while her husband was in the hospital. The knitting club was born, and many of its members have been here with Edna from the very start.

“I’ve made a lot of friends and had a lot of happy times in this place,” she tells me. “Our oldest knitting club member is in her 90s, and we’ve got people from different countries even. All different people from different walks of life. I couldn’t wish for a nicer group of women to join me for knitting.”

“We’ve done so much over the years for different initiatives and different people. My daughters will tell you the best thing I ever did was start this group. I would recommend it to anyone: if you can do something as a volunteer, it’s the best thing you can do.”

Wondering where those 5,000 knitted creations wound up? That’s coming up next week, in part two of this series about the Sheppard Y’s amazing knitting club.