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16 years and 5000 pieces: The impressive impact of the Toronto Sheppard Y’s knitting group

The Knitting Club

Last week, I introduced you to longtime YMCA volunteer and former staff member Edna, and the knitting club she started 16 years ago at the Toronto Sheppard Y. Over the many years they’ve been working together, this amazing team of women have produced more than 5,000 knitted creations that they donate to countless worthy causes. Here’s the short list:

  • North York General hospital gets celebratory holiday hats for Hanukkah, Christmas, and Chinese New Year; tiny blankets and hats for babies who are born premature; and, to give a little bit of comfort when it’s needed most, pieces for mothers who miscarry at the hospital. Barbara, one of the group’s long-time members, creates a special blanket every year that’s given to the very first baby born on January 1!
  • Out Of The Cold receives hundreds of hats, scarves, and ear-warming headbands that help this volunteer-run housing initiative achieve their goal of keeping Torontonians out of the cold during our long winters.
  • Toronto-area schools are sent hundreds of hats and scarves, where they get handed out to kids who don’t have their own.
  • In 2009, the knitting club spent weeks creating beautiful blankets; they sent 200 to Afghanistan for our Canadian troops. “And we got a letter back from Kandahar saying thank you!” Edna exclaims, clearly thrilled that all their hard work was valued. “I’m from Britain and I was a child during the war,” Edna tells me, “and so I know what the Canadian soldiers did for people like me. If I can give something back to them, that’s what I want to do.”

This year, they’re working on some particularly unique creations: “twiddle muffs.” Twiddle muffs were created to provide some comfort for veterans, people with Alzheimer’s, those struggling with cognitive disabilities, or anyone who could use some extra warmth for their hands and something to keep their fingers busy. As Edna puts it: “These keep the hands occupied and warm!” With both of her own hands stuffed inside one, she shows me how they’re colorfully decorated on the outside, and adorned with things to fiddle with on the inside.

At this point in our interview-turned-social-hour, Edna and I have been chatting for a solid 45 minutes. She’s been grabbing all these hats, blankets, yarn balls, and knitting needles, enthusiastically showing me just a few of the many items her group’s created recently, while I struggle to write down the impressively long list of organizations those items get donated to. Edna’s found herself with a tiny hat designed to fit a premature baby’s head in one hand, and a colourful twiddle muff in the other. She looks at me as she holds both of her hands up in the air: “This hat was made for a baby who hasn’t even been born yet,” she says, lifting her right hand a bit higher. “But while we were making it, we were also knitting this twiddle muff, which is meant for someone who’s in…what I call the ‘twilight’ of their lifetime. So when I’m working away here, these women and I, we’re knitting things for people who are in all stages of their lives — we’re going from sun up to sun down.”

I was charmed and inspired by Edna and the knitting club, but what happened next brought an even bigger smile to my face. A few mornings after Edna’s story first went up on our blog, I got an email from the YMCA contact centre. Edna had called wanting to speak with me. I called her back, and she immediately said: “I didn’t know your name was Meredith!” Of course, I’ve been getting this my whole life, so I reply with my well-worn, “Actually, Meredith is my last name and Nicole is my first. It’s weird, I know…” But Edna cuts me off: “No, I know your name’s Nicole! I meant your last name… Meredith is my maiden name! I’ve been getting calls from my daughters and relatives — from Merediths all over, and they’re telling me that we’ve got another Meredith writing about the knitting group!” A further 25 minutes later, after we’ve traced out our family trees for each other, we laughingly agree that we’re bringing a whole new meaning to the idea that the people you bond with at the YMCA become your second family — something Edna and her long-time knitting club compatriots live and breathe every week when they gather at the Y.