Albertans sew, knit, crochet their way to helping Australian wildfire rescue animals

Hundreds of carefully-crafted mittens for koalas, pouches for kangaroos and nests for birds are leaving Calgary and heading to Australia for the animal victims of the country’s devastating wildfires.

A whole bunch of pet stores and even Air Canada wanted to help

Crafters from central Alberta sent hundreds of items for animals rescued from Australian wildfires. Some local pet stores and Air Canada wanted to help too. (The Associated Press/Submitted by Jackie Larocque)

Hundreds of carefully crafted mittens for koalas, pouches for kangaroos and nests for birds are leaving Calgary and heading to Australia for the animal victims of the country's devastating wildfires, thanks to some caring central Albertans who like to knit and crochet and network on Facebook.

"When animals are going through a catastrophe like this, they need a little bit of extra care to help them out," Jackie Larocque of Sylvan Lake, Alta., told The Homestretch.

The Australian counterparts of the Canadian Animal Rescue Craft Guild asked Canada for some help through Facebook, as knitters and crocheters from Down Under were overwhelmed.

Lacombe Pet Valu and its customers contributed four huge bags, including items like this pouch for baby kangaroos. (Submitted by Jackie Larocque)

Raging fires have killed more than 30 people, destroyed thousands of homes and have killed or displaced almost half a billion animals.

Larocque said for Canada to make a contribution, it required a lot of people to get on board.

"Australia said we need some crafters. They sent all the patterns to the guild on Facebook. They started calling out for crafters, basically. I became a drop-off and used social media to spread the word through central Alberta," she said.

"I got a whole bunch of people."

Pet stores step up

But having Larocque drive all over central Alberta to pick up contributions one by one wasn't practical or efficient.

"I contacted pet stores in Red Deer, Lacombe, Sylvan Lake and Rocky Mountain House to be drop-off points, and they stepped up with no problem."

Folks at the Lacombe Pet Valu loved the idea.

Just a small sample of what some generous crafters sent to Australia for animals rescued from the wildfires. (Submitted by Jackie Larocque)

"Anytime we put a shout out looking for something, the community just jumps on board really, really quick," Cheryl Babiak said.

She's a sales associate and event planner for the store, located in a community of 13,000 about 25 kilometres north of Red Deer.

"All the knitters got busy, and the sewers got busy, and they just created all these wonderful little items," Babiak said.

4 huge bags

The response, Babiak said, was amazing.

"About 20 nests, 30 medium joey pouches, quite a few big slings for the joeys when they get older. A couple of our customers made little bat beds. Those were pretty sweet. It's basically a sleeping bag with a pillow on one end, and then you just roll it up like a burrito and the little bat is inside," she said, with pride in her voice.

In total, that one store contributed four massive bags.

Almost half a billion animals have been displaced or killed in the Australian wildfires. (Dana Mitchell/Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park/Via The Associated Press)

Larocque took those bags and drove north to do a pick up in Edmonton, then south to Calgary to put 200 to 300 items on a plane headed to Sydney.

"Air Canada has really stepped up to the plate for us. They've been doing cargo runs for us this last week and into next week. They are not charging us for any of it. It's been great," Larocque said.

The airline was happy to help.

"As part of our support for those affected by devastating bushfires in Australia, particularly the heartbreaking stories of injured animals, we worked with a charity in Sydney and a group of dedicated Canadian crafters to deliver care packages to help in animal care," Air Canada wrote in a statement to CBC News.

"The Air Canada Foundation is also matching all employee donations and donations made at employee-led fundraisers up to $25,000 to benefit the Red Cross."

Larocque says she was told cash would be helpful, but actually pulling out the knitting needles was more targeted support.

"They said the money is fine, but they need people to make the items, because the Australian craft guild are really overwhelmed because of the amount of animals in dire straits. They just couldn't keep up."

Jackie Larocque was asked to help co-ordinate some relief for animal victims of the Australian wildfires. She did, in a big way. 7:56

Lacombe has been amazing

Overall, Larocque is happy with how this project turned out, thanks to a lot of crafters.

"The people that are doing it are wonderful. They are extremely talented. It's been such a good turn out and such a good response."

Back at Pet Valu, Babiak has further confirmation of what she already knew.

"We live and work in a generous community. Lacombe has been amazing," she said.

"Every animal, every creature, every person needs a helping hand every once in a while."

With files from Jenny Howe and The Homestretch


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