Not everyone who takes in the Sunday knitting and crocheting sessions at Our Place finds themselves with needles or hooks in hand.
Some are content to sit nearby, watching others’ hands work, listening to the conversation and basking in a friendly, non-threatening atmosphere.
Program co-ordinator Melanie Norman, an avid crocheter, welcomes “spectators.” She realizes this weekly gathering is about more than just creating hand-made woolens.
“They’re socializing,” she says.
Between 15 and 20 people take part and relatively few are homeless. And they like to talk, Norman says.
“Everybody has a story to tell from their past about how knitting or crocheting affected them. When they hear the stories it only encourages them; it starts them thinking about what projects they might like to make for children or grandchildren.”
Norman finds working with marginalized citizens uplifting, especially crafting warm items likely to be given as gifts.
“It’s all about love,” she says. “When one lady completed a hat, her hands were shaking, she was so excited. To be a part of that is a real blessing.”
While most knitters come for the camaraderie and to learn technique, one original group member comes in hope of seeing her homeless son taking a meal at Our Place, Norman says.
When the program began in November, Norman paid for hooks and yarn out of pocket at thrift stores and collected donated material. Today the instructors make up kits with material and patterns for such things as slippers, hats or sweaters. They encourage people to work on their projects at home, but also like to have tools and yarn available for newcomers.
Grant McKenzie, communications director for Our Place, said the program is one of several that have opened up its doors to the wider community.
“The definition of our family members is changing, as we’re seeing more working poor and seniors, and people who could just be on their own but are finding a sense of community here,” he said.
The number of programs has doubled in the past year at the downtown service provider, with new offerings including art classes, a choir, general health services plus accu-pressure and massage sessions.
“It’s not just the homeless,” McKenzie said. “We’re offering these types of programs to people who, on their pension, otherwise couldn’t afford them.”
The Our Place experience is not Norman’s first with at-risk populations here since she moved in 2011 from Toronto. She teamed up with knitting fan Angela Young in 2012 to form the North Park Knit and Crochet Charity Group. Its members are largely single moms and people between jobs from the neighbourhood.
That group meets Wednesday evenings at Norman’s workplace, Sands Funeral Chapel, whose parent company, Arbor Memorial, encourages employees to do volunteer work in the community.
Knitting, she says, is just one more way of removing barriers to connection for people.