Originally published on couriermail.com.au and reproduced here with permission.

Every one of the 13,600 trauma teddies created by Carlyle Gardens Townsville’s knitting group has a story.

One bear was a cuddle toy for nine-month-old baby Declan for the four days he was in hospital, after being given the woollen friend in the ambulance.

Other toys are a welcome distraction given to children by police at a time of trauma.

And for teddies-in-progress, the regular catch ups of the women who knit them help maintain their social lives and community bonds.

What started as a casual conversation between the knitting ladies at Carlyle Gardens Townsville has become a volunteer effort that has supported 13,600 children across the region.

Denise Wilson, 83, has been one of the organisers for 12 years, but even she was surprised at the number of teddies the group has produced.

“Are you ready for it?” she says, when asked about the teddy tally.

“Since we started in 2012 and up until last week, it’s 13,600. I record it every time we send out a delivery. I counted it up the other day and I thought, ‘Wow, I didn’t know we had done that many’.”

These colourful toys have been given to children across Australia at times of natural disaster, an emergency ambulance trip, or hospital admission.

The Carlyle Gardens Townsville group donate their teddies to Queensland Ambulance Service stations in Townsville, Ingham and Magnetic Island, as well as the Queensland Police Service in local areas.

Given in times of trauma, the children receive a message from them: “Here’s a little huggy bear, with love from me to you. It’s for you to hold on to when you’re feeling blue. From the knitting ladies at Carlyle Gardens.”

Mrs Wilson says the bears each have their own look, with a tricolour pattern and expression-filled happy face. “They’re all beautiful,” she says. “They’ve got little faces, always with a smile.”

In return, the women often receive messages of thanks. They even get handprints from the pre-school aged children who are yet to learn to write.

“We get a lot of little notes back from parents and children,” she says. “They say thank you. The little kids, if they can write, they write in their handwriting. If they’re tiny, we get a handprint. It’s a lovely thing to be involved in, it really is.”

One of the thanks came from the mother of Declan, who wrote to Carlyle Gardens Townsville to express her gratitude for the bear. She said she had only a few minutes to pack before the ambulance came, meaning she only grabbed the essentials and no toys.

“Thank you very much to the lovely ladies who make these toys, know that the kids on the other end love them and know that the parents appreciate your efforts,” Sophie told the retirement village residents.

It started more than a decade ago when Mrs Wilson met new resident Pauline Dietrich, now 75. Mrs Dietrich had already been knitting the teddies for the Red Cross since her retirement from the Townsville Hospital a few years earlier, and asked if perhaps the other women in the knitting group might want to do it too? “They all put their hands up,” Mrs Wilson said. “That’s how we started.”

Since then, the group has made about 1,000 teddies each year.

For Mrs Dietrich, knitting the teddies has become habitual. “I always manage to do one a day, sometimes two or three, depending on what is on,” she says.

“If I’m sitting down, I pick up the knitting. I’m not able to sit and not do anything with my hands, so I pick it up. It’s muscle memory.”

She says they get about half a dozen visits a year from children and parents, grateful for the teddies. “There is constant feedback,” she says. “It’s good.”

It’s also good for the team involved, with the social interaction and group purpose. A few women have even learned to knit.

“We can see the progress of the people who haven’t done it before,” Mrs Dietrich says. “Once it clicks, you can see they get so much pleasure out of the fact they’ve achieved something.”

The group has refined the process to a fine art. Mrs Wilson brings the collection of wool, much of it donated or bought with the proceeds of their monthly market sales of other knitted goods. Then the group choose their wool and get stitching.

Some of the men in the village stuff the teddies when complete, and other women stitch them together. Then they attach the cards, and add them to the lot for delivery to the emergency services.

“Everybody does their bit and it adds up to a lot at the end of the year,” Mrs Dietrich says.

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