MASSILLON: Christine Lane is moved to tears every time she thinks about the children who will hold the small dolls that she knits.
“The very thought that there are children in orphanages who have lost their parents to AIDS is heartbreaking,” said Lane, of Massillon. “Because of my arthritis, some days I can knit and some days I can’t. But I do what I can because this is something that makes a difference in the lives of children who have nothing.”
Lane heads the Comfort Doll project for the Episcopal Church Women’s auxiliary at St. Timothy’s Episcopal Church. The project, which launched in January, encourages volunteers to knit small dolls that roughly measure 5 to 9 inches tall.
The little dolls were designed to be used as packing material for medical supplies shipped to areas of Africa where the AIDS virus is widespread. The dolls are substituted for peanuts or bubble wrap to provide cushioning for vaccines, medicine, treatments and medical supplies and instruments donated by pharmacies and hospitals to ICROSS (International Community for the Relief of Starvation and Suffering) Canada, which gathers and ships medical supplies to the poorest parts of the world.
Once the supplies are unloaded, the dolls are given to children, many of whom have been orphaned or themselves carry HIV/AIDS. The dolls are often the only toy the children, who live in poverty, have ever owned. Many of the children are buried with the dolls.
ICROSS, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in Saanichton, British Columbia, was established in 1998 by William Willbond (a Canadian peacekeeping veteran) and his wife, Lynne (a registered nurse). They saw children suffering from starvation and disease in the Congo while there to lay wreaths on the graves of Canadian soldiers.
During its more than 13-year history, ICROSS has collected and shipped more than $1 million worth of medical supplies to East Africa, Asia, Central America, South America and Eastern Europe.
The idea for the Comfort Dolls was born four years ago as a way to protect the supplies, many of which were in test tubes or glass vials. William Willbond said the dolls took on a life of their own.
“AIDS orphans use them as pillows,” he said. “They are the only possession they own.”
Anne Smith, president of Episcopal Church Women at St. Timothy, said participation in the knitting project is open to anyone. Volunteers provide their own yarn, find the instructions online (http://icross-canada.com), knit the dolls in their spare time and drop them off at the church, at 226 Third St. SE in Massillon. Once the church collects about 50 dolls, they are shipped to ICROSS. There is also a crochet pattern available for the dolls.
“It doesn’t take a lot of time, and a lot of people use the leftover yarn from other projects they’ve worked on,” Smith said. “It’s well worth the effort, knowing that these little baby dolls mean so much to the children. It’s such a heart-rending situation that is difficult to wrap your mind around. We have so much and these children have so little. We should do what we can to reach out to them.”
Lane said she typically completes a doll in a few hours over a couple of evenings. She has completed six since starting the project two months ago. Each doll is knitted from the bottom up, and knitters are free to use their creativity when embellishing them.
“We tend to make them brown in color and we ask people to make sure the stitching is tight and that they are stuffed firmly because they are going to be used hard,” Lane said. “They're easy to make, and they are so meaningful to the children who will hold them. I am pleased that our small effort can make children happy for whatever amount of time they have left.”
For information about the project, call the church at 330-833-3183. The women's auxiliary also crochets and knits hats and scarves to be distributed to deep-sea and river mariners via the Christmas at Sea project of the Seamen's Church Institute.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.