When Carolyn Mark retired to Napa from Marin in 1995, little did she know where her love of knitting would take her.
Every summer, Mark had gone to Chautauqua, N.Y. where the founder of Knitting4Peace (K4P) lives and, twice a week, gathers people on her front porch to knit Peace Pals, charming, small dolls donated to children around the world.
Mark never intended to go beyond the front porch until a large donation of yarn came her way. She posted on Napa Nextdoor, offering free yarn, instructions and inviting people to join K4P. Within 24 hours, 30 people responded, and for the next month knitters came to her home, from beginners to experts, knitting hats, scarves, but mostly dolls. Sometimes people just drop off a bag of dolls. She never knows what a day may bring. When her daughter went on a medical mission to Honduras, she took 40-50 dolls for the children.
On its website, Knitting4Peace.org shares its mission, “Since our founding in June 2006, we have delivered requested handmade items to more than 155,063 people living in communities across the United States and 80 countries around the world. We serve a growing community of women, teens, children, infants, and families in areas of local and global suffering and conflict.” A few of K4P global partnerships suggests the scope of their outreach: Outreach Uganda, Vikas Project (India), Peruvian Hearts and Helping Haitian Angels.
Six months ago, Mark went to a “Knit-in” at the Yountville Library to share Peace Pals. Now a group meets on Saturday mornings and many knit dolls. Markand helpers also taught a Yountville Library “How To” day on knitting Peace Pals. A “Chicks with Sticks,” church group that knits for the needy, are now interested. A grandmother visiting from Georgia wants to start a group, and another nonprofit in Africa wants dolls.
Last year, Mark attended a talk on refugees by a local Napan, Tama Adelman of Hands on Global. ”That resonated with me that we could help and Tama could hand carry the dolls directly to the camps,” Mark said. “To date approximately 300 dolls have been made by Napa Valley knitters for refugees in Lesbos, Greece and the U.S./Mexican border as well as children in Honduras.”
Recently “Doll Sponsorship” began as a refugee fundraiser. Since the dolls are not for sale, for a small donation people can could “sponsor” a doll, including a hand-written personal message for a child in the refugee camps.
The idea began with 100 note cards with personal messages in English, donated to Hands on Global (HOG). The refugees were so grateful for the cards; someone heard them, they became visible, they were valued.“We need to bring medical supplies, but the dolls are a symbol of hope,” said HOG director Valerie Hellerman.
People feel so helpless about the refugee crisis so this feels like a small gesture, a way of connecting and saying, “I care,” Adelman said. “When the children come to the clinic, scared, hurting, and cold with major PTSD, their eyes light-up when they receive a doll. Even the doctors wanted them for their own kids.”
Recently, Knitting4Peace provided a 100 dolls that were sent to the camps with a HOG volunteer. “By the time a child gets to the camp they have nothing,” Mark said. “I think every child should have a ‘lovey’, a small something that gives them solace.”
Mark is now creating S.O.S. Flowers and S.O.S. Bracelets made from the lifejackets worn by refugees crossing the Aegean. While the purpose is to raise money, she hopes the adornments will spark a conversation about refugees and “keep the invisible—visible.”
“When I take the lifejackets apart, it is a very powerful experience. This is the fabric that they depended on for their survival, if they survived. Now the life jackets can tell their story. On April 23rd we are part of a major refugee event titled, “Frayed Lives: The Global Refugee Crises” (www.nctcnapa.org). Our dolls, flowers, and bracelets will be part of the story.”