The humming of the sewing machines, sergers and electric screwdrivers and the murmurs of wise old souls comes flowing up the stairs, growing in volume as I descend into the basement of the Juan de Fuca Seniors Centre in Colwood.
I am greeted by the smiling faces of about 15 seniors, hunched over various stations set up to perform the various functions of the workshop – as they are every Tuesday morning.
It’s like the North Pole of a child’s imagination – right down to the rows of teddy bears – but without the pointy, curled-toed shoes.
It’s the home base of Canada Comforts, a not-for-profit charitable organization of people determined to do their part to help the children of the world, in whatever way they can.
Even though they recognize their efforts are just a drop in the bucket, says founder and president Sylvia Hatfield, they feel that if there are enough drops, the bucket overflows.
“Our little motto is actually an African proverb,” she says. “We can walk far when we walk together.”
And walk together they do.
Canada Comforts began in the early 1980s, Hatfield says, but only became a “formalized” organization in 1998, when they took up shop in the Centre’s basement. Prior to that, they were just a group of friends doing good things out of Hatfield’s living room. They now have approximately 80 satellite groups across the country.
Their Colwood workshop has stations for making knitted teddy bears, rolling bandages made of old bedsheets, sewing and serging dresses, shorts, baby shirts and other simple garments, and an area to organize it all for packaging.
As I take the tour of the area – which anyone can do by appointment – Hatfield stops at a table. On that table sits a sample of their creations and a non-descript binder, which she opens.
“This baby was dying,” she says, pointing at a photograph taken in Africa at a hospital. The binder is full of similar shots taken around the world over the years – and Hatfield knows the stories that go with each one.
“Her mother said she had never had a single thing in her life that was brand new. Her baby had a brand new teddy bear and a bag, and the tears were streaming down. I get kind of tired sometimes, and I think it might be time to pack it in, and then I remember things like that and,” she pauses, gathering her emotions, “I guess I can go on a little longer.”
Doctors and nurses in these far-flung places have told her that their promises to young patients that they could keep the bear if they went through with a painful, life-saving operation have convinced the children to go through with the procedures. It’s those kinds of stories that keep Hatfield going.
Canada Comforts now ships to more than 80 countries around the world, Afghanistan to Zimbabwe, Bangladesh to Yemen. Some months they’ll fill two 40-foot shipping containers full of donations. Some months they’ll fill three.
And they’re always looking for help. People can work on items at home, as well, based on patterns supplied by the organization (or of their own design, depending on the product). They also happily accept donations of yarn, washable fabric, thread – anything they can use to make their offerings – and those are accepted at the Church of the Advent on Sooke Road.
“The main goal is to help children both in Canada and in the developing world. It’s not about money-raising, but about what we can do with our hands,” Hatfield says.
If people can’t knit or sew, but would like to help out financially, Canada Comforts can offer tax receipts for donations. Supporters can be sure those funds will be used to purchase supplies and other good uses.
For more information, scheduling a workshop tour on a Tuesday or getting involved in some way, contact Hatfield at 250-474-4614 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Marguerite Swallow at 250-642-4354 or email@example.com.
For inquiries about garment patterns or helping from home, call Betty Guiney at 250-478-3040.