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Knitting smiles for sick kids, one finger puppet at a time

In the last year, Sheila Pineau has knit close to 6,000 pint-sized puppets to bring some happiness to children at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax.

'Sometimes a finger puppet will put a nice smile on their face and they forget all about their problems'

77-year-old Sheila Pineau of Charlottetown sits beside her growing pile of pocket puppets for kids at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax. (Pat Martel/CBC)

If Sheila Pineau is not knitting, she's probably sleeping — until she wakes up for another 5.a.m. start. 

"Give me a cup of coffee and I can sit here the whole day and just do nothing but knit," Pineau said.

The 77-year-old Charlottetown woman has spent much of the last year on her couch surrounded by dozens of freshly-knit finger puppets.

Pineau has knit close to 6,000 finger puppets in the last year. (Pat Martel/CBC)

Pineau has been knitting most of her life — creating sweaters for her children, and mittens and socks.

She'd taken a break from the pastime when last year someone asked her if she wanted to make finger puppets for the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, the region's children's hospital.

'Forget all about their problems'

Pineau has been knitting for the kids at the hospital ever since, racking up the impressive number of 6,000 the pint-sized puppets.

Pineau displays a few of the thousands of pocket puppets that are destined for kids at the IWK in Halifax. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"Sometimes a finger puppet will put a nice smile on their face and they forget all about their problems," she said.

The puppets seem to help the parents too, she said.

"One of them would have to be with the child to get a needle," said Pineau. "They're smiling too, knowing their child is happy."

"I just know every time I make one, I make a child smile or a child happy, and that's all I'm interested in, to put a smile on a child's face."

Knitting thousands of finger puppets for sick kids 0:42

'Just something to hold on to' 

The donations are much appreciated by the IWK — Pineau is one of the biggest donors to the hospital's finger puppet program.

Pineau's finger puppets are much appreciated at the IWK Health Centre in Halifax, says Kylene Mellor, manager of Volunteer Resources. (Submitted by Kylene Mellor, IWK)

"She could be doing anything during that time and the fact she thinks of us as her area of generosity and time is really beyond measure," said Kylene Mellor, who manages the hospital's many volunteers. 

For some children, it's just something to hold on to — whether they're nervous or scared, Mellor said. 

Pineau gets her yarn from friends who want to support her efforts. Recently, a friend returned from a visit to Ontario with a big bag of donations from fellow knitters that thrilled Pineau — but she's still on the hunt for more.

"I know people do have leftover yarns stuck somewheres," she said.

'Tears come to my eyes'

You might think Pineau's hands might be getting sore after all this handiwork — not so, she said. 

Pineau has just about filled her second box of her finger puppets that will eventually be sent to kids at the IWK in Halifax. (Pat Martel/CBC)

"It exercises my hand and I have never had any problems with my hands," she said.  

Pineau has also dropped off some of her finger friends at a local daycare, which she said created quite a stir. 

"They had their hands right in the box and they didn't know which one to pick," said Pineau.

One little girl moved her to tears with her comment.

"'My sister gets one of them every time she goes to that hospital,'" she told Pineau.

Knitting can be good therapy. Pineau is waiting to have skin cancer removed "and it keeps my mind off it," she said. 

Pineau is now hoping to find someone who will transport the two boxes of her pocket puppets to Halifax.

Pineau throws another handful of knitted finger puppets into the box destined for kids at the IWK. (Pat Martel/CBC)

About the Author

Pat Martel

Pat Martel has worked with CBC P.E.I. for three decades, mostly with Island Morning — from a writer-broadcaster to a producer. This year, Pat joined the web team with an eye to create great video. Pat also runs an adult coed soccer league in Stratford. He always welcomes great story ideas that are visually appealing. pat.martel@cbc.ca