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Canadians craft for local causes after 'overwhelming' Australian animal groups

Goods made by Canadian crafters for animals affected by Australian wildfires are shown in this undated handout photo. Australian wildlife groups are asking Canadian crafters to put in a pin in their efforts to help animals affected by the wildfires, citing a surplus of handmade donations. The Canadian Animal Rescue Craft Guild has instructed the 11,000 members of its Facebook group to stitch up the seams on their joey pouches, bat wraps and crocheted nests.
February 05, 2020 - 8:00 PM

When Halifax-raised Brianna MacDonald opened her home in Australia to Canadian-made knits intended to comfort animals impacted by wildfires, she didn't anticipate the crates full of fabric that were headed her way.

For weeks, MacDonald's one-bedroom apartment in Cronulla, a suburb of Sydney, was overrun with boxes upon boxes of baby kangaroo pouches, bat wraps, bird baskets and koala mittens.

Then Air Canada sent shipments of supplies from six Canadian cities.

MacDonald, who works with the Animal Rescue Collective to support Australian wildlife workers, said the operation that overtook her apartment now spans two storage spaces stuffed with an estimated 2.5 tonnes of Canadian contributions.

While she doesn't plan to close the doors to her warehouse any time soon, some Australian groups say they already have more hand-stitched donations than they can handle.

"We've never dealt with this level of quantity before," MacDonald said by phone from Cronulla.

"When suddenly it caught wind internationally ... I know that some of those warehouses, there was just no way they could control what was coming in, how it was coming in, how it had been sewn, how it had been prepared."

The Animal Rescue Collective Craft Guild put out the initial appeal for creature comforts, meant to help animals injured or displaced in the intense fires that have burned more than 104,000 square kilometres since September and killed at least 33 people.

But in a Facebook post last month they implored international crafters to put down their needles, emphasizing that "Australia's needs have been met."

"We are continuing reaching out to as many rescues as we can ... but the answer generally is, 'Thanks guys, we’re good!'" the guild wrote.

"Thank you for your support, solidarity, kind words & thoughts, and crafted items so far. We ask you, please do not send any more items to Australia."

Australia's largest wildlife rescue organization, WIRES, confirmed that craft overload has been an issue.

"Whilst we are very grateful to the wonderful crafters from around the globe, the fact is their generosity has been so overwhelming that we are literally looking for places to store what we have already received in donations," spokesman John Grant said in an email.

Toronto veterinarian Scott Bainbridge, who recently returned from tending to injured wildlife in Australia, said despite crafters' best intentions, some of their creations aren't well suited to treating wounds.

Sterilized bandages provide much better protection for burned paws than koala mittens, said Bainbridge. He also noted that koalas need the dexterity of their hands to feed themselves and grip branches.

While he said the best way for Canadian to support Australian wildlife is with their wallets, Bainbridge admitted he saw the adorable appeal of crafters' homespun contributions.

"Anyone can donate money," he said. "If you're actually sitting in your home and sewing up mittens for koalas, I can see how that would make you feel like a million dollars."

The Canadian Animal Rescue Craft Guild has also instructed the 11,000 members of its Facebook group to finish the seams on their current projects, but not start new ones.

Organizer Bonnie Beach said Canada stood out in the global stitching spree for the ways the crafting community mobilized to enlist the support of classroom "sewing bees," a local Ontario police force that offered to transport boxes and a Canadian airline that shipped the donations to the Southern Hemisphere for free.

Beach said the guild is encouraging crafters to keep their hands busy by knitting, sewing and crocheting for causes closer to home.

Renee Patenaude of Mississauga, Ont., is one of the crafters working to ensure none of their efforts go to waste.

Patenaude said crafters are retrofitting patterns intended for Australian critters to fit local wildlife, and are also using their creative skills to help humans by knitting quilts for seniors or clothing for homeless shelters.

She also started a Facebook group called Mississauga Makers for a Cause to auction off crocheted koala stuffies and joey pouches that have been repurposed as shopping bags in order to raise funds for Australian wildlife organizations.

"People are tired of watching all the bad stuff in the world and feeling like there's nothing that they can do," said Patenaude.

"The momentum's there, and I think the heart is there too, and the need to just be involved in doing something good for other people."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Feb. 5, 2020.

News from © The Canadian Press, 2020
The Canadian Press

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