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The gift of knitting – Q&A with Knit4Charities member and local group leader Lesley Bezear

knit4charities is a nationwide online association of knitters, crocheters, sewers, and crafters who help those in need around Australia through donations of toys, blankets, and clothing.

The charity was formed in 2004 by founder, Pamela Tatt, who wanted to be a part of a crafting community and decided to start one of her own.

With over a thousand members across Australia, many of which are in smaller social-knitting circles, Knit4Charities is now an avid crafting charity and community.

Lesley Bezear is the leader of the Canberra-based Knit4Charities group and has been a member of the charity for the last 6-years.

Lesley’s group lives up to the charity’s objectives by giving back to the community and providing services to both people and animals in need, all while forming lifelong friendships.

The Canberra-based group knits pouches and nests for ACT Wildlife, crochets toys and blankets for Ronald McDonald House Canberra, crafts twiddle muffs for the elderly in local nursing homes, and creates care packages for children and families with Roundabout Canberra.

Q: What does Knit4Charities do for the community, and what are the charity’s objectives?

A: Knit4Charities deals with the Australian community, not just the Canberran community, but it aims to provide an outlet for people who are able to produce [beautifully] crafted items. An outlet for them to donate them to worthwhile causes, and all of them are very worthwhile causes. They help people who are in fairly difficult situations a lot of the time, [like] homeless people, orphans, foster children, animals that need welfare, and so on. It’s quite a broad range of charities that we support. It’s always aimed at giving items directly to the charities, to the people being supported by the charities. Another aspect is that we find out what the charities want, and aim to give them those things rather than just people producing lots of things that they like to do, but then having to find somewhere to donate them. So that’s why there is a calendar for different charities, that specify what that charity needs at the moment.

Q: How do you think these services and items benefit the community and charities that receive them?

A: Certainly with the birds’ nests, there are a lot of people who care about the animals that they’re rescuing and this helps them by giving them items that can be used in that process. So like a birds’ nest or a pouch for an injured animal, those are benefiting the people who are providing that service, as well as the community generally that care about animals and their welfare, and it’s all aimed at helping that. With charities like Ronald McDonald House Canberra, it’s varied over the years what this group particularly is involved with, but it’s really aiming at giving something to the community that allows them to help the people who come in as their clients, stressed children, and so on.

Q: On average, how many items would you say your group donates annually to charities through Knit4Charities per year?

This group does produce a lot of items. I think probably the number of charities a year would be three or four a month of the general charities, so about thirty or maybe more charities a year. This group quite often contributes, certainly to the local charities, quite a number of items. I think, for charities like Canberra Oncology group, I think our group contributed about half of what was donated, because there were blankets, and beanies, and so on. Everyone contributes something, most of this group sends something once a month, whereas Pam’s requirement when you join is to contribute one item a year. But this group is much more prolific than that. But in terms of actual figures, I don’t think I could put a figure on it, but it’s quite substantial.

Q: How does Knit4Charities go about choosing which charities to donate to, and what is the Wishlist process?

A: A Knit4Charities member who identifies that there might be a need, makes a contact with a person who is coordinating that particular charity. And then that person who is within the charity identifies a subset of things that they need. So, for instance, with Ronald McDonalds House and the various times we have done that charity, one year it was children’s beanies, another year it might have been blankets for children, and they’re the things that the charity identifies that it would like. And then, the Knit4Charities person then submits a nomination to Knit4Charities database, explaining what is required, and then works out which part of the calendar that will slot into.

Q: Knit4Charities is predominantly self-funded, with members funding their own supplies and postage expenses. What is the communities’ involvement with supply donations to Knit4Charities, and how does it help?

A: The members of Knit4Charities predominantly supply their own supplies, so they buy the yarn, or the fabric, or any of the other things that are needed to produce the items required. They then, in general terms, pay the postage of that item to the particular charity. The charity group in itself has some fundraising and applies for various grants, sometimes it might be Australian post or a small business grant, and that raises some funds for the charity, which comes back to the members in the form of prepaid postage packets.

A lot of the people who are members in Knit4Charities aren’t necessarily earning high quantities of funds, they’re limited. A lot of them are probably pensioners and people with limited income so postage can be an issue. I think a lot of people try to donate to their local area, which I am sure happens right around the country, but we still support elsewhere as well. There is also a provision on the website for if anyone in the public wants to donate yarn, they can contact Pam that way. A lot of yarn that is destined for goodness knows where becomes part of the charity, and that’s really quite helpful.

Q: Since the pandemic and earlier bushfires, how has the services and demand for those services changed?

A: It’s interesting, I think a lot of the charities that would have normally supported year after year have pulled back a little bit, perhaps because of the issues with transmitting COVID via items or objects. So I think this year there’s been quite a few, some last year too, that some of the charities went ahead but the collector had to stockpile them. For instance, the Canberra Oncology person that I collect for, she went months before she was able to actually get those items to Canberra Oncology. They weren’t providing the blankets or the beanies for patients who would have probably normally needed them. So it did impact quite significantly. There was a big push in the few months after the bushfires, before COVID hit, trying to get items to the charities to provide help to the so many people who lost their homes down in various places along the coast. But generally, I think it’s been slightly lower because people haven’t necessarily gotten back into the rhythm of the donations yet.

Q: How did you first come to join Knit4Charities, and what has been your role within the Canberra group?

A: I’ve been retired quite a while now, and to begin with I was doing other things, and then I thought ‘I got all this yarn from various projects, what am I going to do with it all?’, rather than just sort of dump it to a charity like salvation army. So, I did some searching online and found Knit 4 Charities and thought ‘well that sounds interesting’, so I started to do things for that charity and basically it’s grown from there. My role has been mostly as a contributor to sending items to charities and in the last couple of years I have taken over from Susanne, who was a longer-term member than me, as being a collector for Ronald McDonald House and Canberra Oncology. That involves receiving all the parcels that come in from around the country and sorting them, photographing them, getting them organised, and then delivering them to the contact within the charity. That’s been really quite rewarding.

Q: Why do you enjoy Knit4Charities and what differences has it made to your life? Have you found that you have made friends and strong connections from joining Knit4Charities?

A: I think after I retired, there wasn’t really anything I was doing, and I think you find that if you’re able to provide things in a way to a charity you feel like you’re giving back to the community you’ve been within for a long time, and it’s quite a satisfying thing. Being able to make something and it’s being used by someone else who really needs it. It developed into this little knitting charity group which took a couple of years to get going, we started off with three people, and then four people, and then building up from there. I mean for me, I’m not a particularly outgoing person and it’s been a very worthwhile group for me to belong to. It has meant certainly making friendships, definitely with this particular group, they’re such a lovely group of people.

Q: What would you say to an enthusiastic crafter looking to be involved in the community and possibly joining a group like Knit4Charities?

A: Well I think it’s worth them having a look at the online information, and finding out whether there is anything amongst the projects on the Knit4Charities calendar that they’d be interested in doing, it doesn’t always suit everybody. But there is such a range of things that you can actually produce if you have got that kind of interest, that would be useful for somebody else that I think most people would find something that they could contribute if that’s where they felt they wanted to go.

The Canberra Knit4Charities group meets twice a month, and potential members are invited to reach out via the Knit4Charities website if interested in joining the organisation within a group or as a solo crafter.

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