The women of South Calgary Community Church’s Operation Doll Knit show no signs of slowing down in their charitable efforts.
Formed in 2005, the group’s original purpose was to knit “comfort dolls” to send to children in Malawi.
Dr. Chris Brooks, a former Calgary resident and physician, who worked with the organization Lifeline Malawi and established a medical outreach clinic in Malawi in 2001, shared his story at a church luncheon. He asked the women to knit dolls that he could give to his young patients at the clinic, so they wouldn’t be afraid of him.
“Mary Nielsen took up the torch and got a few ladies together,” relates the group’s current coordinator and leader, Marlene McCowan.
“They also used the dolls for packing medical equipment.”
However, after Dr. Brooks moved to Vancouver, shipping the dolls to him presented new challenges for the group. It decided to increase the places where they donated the dolls. They also expanded from making dolls to making blankets, hats, and baby clothes as well.
“It’s just incredible how this has grown,” McCowan adds.
While they no longer send dolls to Dr. Brooks, women from the church, who go on mission trips, take dolls with them to give to children in orphanages. The dolls not only travel all over the world, but are donated, along with other knitted items, to locations in Calgary.
Samaritan’s Purse, a humanitarian organization, puts dolls in its Christmas shoeboxes, while baby hats and clothing go to Rockyview Hospital and the Calgary Pregnancy Care Centre. Dolls are also given to the children of patients in hospice care.
“Children sleep with the dolls under their pillows,” states McCowan.
“They’re comforted by them.”
Although the group operates as part of South Calgary Community Church’s seniors’ ministry, membership is open to anyone with a desire to help.
The diverse group is made of women from all walks of life and different faiths who have come together to build a tight-knit community. Not only do they meet on Tuesday mornings at the church, but they celebrate each other’s birthdays and hold potluck dinners twice a year.
Barbara-Jean Moore is the only founding member still attending, because the others have moved into care homes or have died.
“It’s the most fun morning,” she enthuses.
“I never miss it.”
While most of the members are retirees, anyone is welcome to join the group. The membership has expanded from five or six women in the beginning to 40, many hands making quick work of the donated yarn that the group receives for its projects.
Even when the yarn is too thick for dolls and baby clothes, everything gets used. One of the members knits scarves for the Mustard Seed, a charitable foundation.
“There’s been a ton of yarn donated. We’ve been so blessed,” explains McCowan.
Peppy Atkins, a retired nurse, joined the group only three months ago, but has been crocheting since she was 11.
Aside from knitting for the group’s charitable work, many of the women also knit and crochet for bazaars and for grandchildren.
“Now’s the time to start on Christmas presents,” laughs Atkins.
Judy Grant originally joined the group because of her friendship with McCowan and has been part of the group for three years. For her, Tuesday mornings are a time to relax and enjoy.
“I love the camaraderie,’ she says, describing the cheerful, friendly atmosphere of the group.
“We laugh a lot.”
Knowing how to knit or crochet isn’t required to join, either. One member, Usha Dosaj, has been with Operation Doll Knit for nine years.
“I needed human interaction after I retired,” she chuckles.
Although Dosaj couldn’t knit when she first joined, the other members soon showed her how.
“I love coming to the church,” says Dosaj.
“People here are really nice and make you feel welcome. For me, this is my second home.”
The group’s current goal is to knit 30,000 of their comfort dolls by June. As of now, they’re only 800 dolls away from reaching that goal.
Although Operation Doll knit takes a break from meeting and knitting during July and August, the group’s energy shows no signing of diminishing, says McCowan.
“It makes us feel really happy that God has called us to do this.”
Featured image: The women of South Calgary Community Church’s Operation Doll Knit.