'Izzy Doll Momma' asks knitters to put 'love in every stitch' for Syrian refugee kids

A woman in Ontario is appealing to Winnipeggers and other Canadians to knit dolls for the children of the thousands of refugees expected to resettle in Manitoba and across the country by the end of the year.

Project organizer says an Izzy Doll 'helps them through tough times'

Shirley O'Connell, the Canadian co-ordinator for the Izzy Doll project, with her Izzy Dolls. (Shirley O'Connell)
A woman in Ontario is appealing to Winnipeggers and other Canadians to knit dolls for the children of the thousands of refugees expected to resettle in Manitoba and across the country by the end of the year.

But Shirley O'Connell wants them to be a certain kind of doll — an Izzy Doll. 

O'Connell, known as the "Izzy Doll Momma" is the Canadian co-ordinator for the Izzy Doll project. 

"It's something that's truly Canadian," said O'Connell. "It has a huge impact."

Canadians knit Izzy Dolls, Canadian veterans collect them and soldiers hand them to kids in war-torn countries and devastated areas. The project has been going on for two decades. 

"It always brings smiles on the faces of children and helps them through tough times so they can hug their doll and talk to it," said O'Connell.

The dolls are about six inches long and stuffed with light polyester fiber fill so soldiers can easily carry them in their pockets. More than 1.3 million Izzy Dolls have been handed out around the world and most recently, the RCMP gave away 800 of them in Haiti.  

O'Connell has been involved with the project for 10 years and helped send more than 25,000 Izzy Dolls to Afghanistan and has seen more than 81,000 go through her house in Perth, Ontario.

"Canadian knitters who care about the kids of the world can make these dolls, putting love in every stitch," said O'Connell.

Doll found in rubble in Croatia sparks idea

The project was inspired by and named after Master Cpl. Mark Isfeld of the No. 1 Combat Engineer Regiment. While he was in Croatia in the early 1990s, he was driving through a village and saw a pile of rubble with something on top. When he got closer he realized it was a large doll. Later that year he showed a photo of it to his mom, Carol Isfeld, saying, "Look, some little girl lost her doll." 

Carol started knitting dolls from scrap wool and sent them along with Mark to give to children. The troops in his regiment named them "Izzy Dolls." Carol continued to make them after Mark died in Croatia in 1994 while removing landmines.

At this point O'Connell said she doesn't know how many dolls are needed to give one to each Syrian refugee child but said there's no limit since this is an ongoing project. 

She also said knitters should hold on to their Izzy Dolls until she finds out where the refugees will be staying in Canada and thus where they should be sent.

The crochet and knitting patterns are available on www.izzydoll.ca.

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