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Tuesday, 12 December 2017 12:00 pm

Hutt locals knit-work to warm up Kiwi kids and fight poverty

TOASTY WARM: Preme Ratahi, Sharlene Whitaker, Freda Lobb (back), Zeppelin Maloney, Piper Ashcroft and Philippa Scanlan (front)

TWO Upper Hutt women are fighting child poverty head-on with knitting needles, a large stash of yarn and the power of social networking.

Freda Lobb and Sharlene Whitaker started the Facebook group Knitting for Cool Kids on Mother’s Day this year, aiming to knit and collect winter woollens for underprivileged Kiwi children.

In just two-and-a-half months the group has attracted 92 members internationally whose generosity has helped warm up at least 60 Hutt Valley youngsters this winter.

“We didn’t think it would get this big. We now have members from all over New Zealand, and in Australia and England,” says Freda, whose grandmother taught her to knit when she was young.

Freda and Sharlene have been assisted by a growing team of keen volunteer knitters who have made woollen beanies, scarves and slippers for Years 1 and 2 children at the low decile Taita Central School, where Sharlene was once a pupil.

They were humbled by the children’s ecstatic reaction to their knitted parcels.

“The [Year 1] kids were gasping with delight, ripping their packs open, hugging each other and showing off their slippers,” says Sharlene, who admits never finishing a knitting project until starting the Facebook group.

“It was so exciting. We were in tears by the end of it.”

“The kids were glowing and really treasuring their hats,” says Freda.

“You often see kids from middle class backgrounds chucking a hat off after about a minute, but these kids were so proud.

“One little girl even asked us, ‘Is this Christmas?’ and another little girl asked if she really was allowed to have another hat. Out of a class of about 20, she was the only one who had a woollen hat at home.

“It was heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time.”

NEW WOOLENS: Shaniya Westrupp, Angelnuna Lauama,Taylor-Von Schuster

The Year 2 students were no less excited when they received their knitted packages, rushing to grab hats and scarves, sliding on the lino in their slippers and clamouring to have photos taken in their colourful new garb.

“Not many of our kids arrive at school with scarves, and certainly not with knitted scarves,” says Sharyn Angus, a Year 2 teacher at Taita Central.

“We are so appreciative that someone is actually thinking of our little ones and their comfort.”

Freda and Sharlene were inspired to start Knitting for Cool Kids after watching Bryan Bruce’s documentary Inside Child Poverty, which left both women feeling “paralysed”.

“I felt a deep sense of shame,” says Freda. “I was most shocked by the diseases that have come back, the damp houses, the overcrowding, the lack of food, kids not being able to make it to the doctor. I found it horrendous.”

After gaining further inspiration from the book Crafting Activism by Joan Tapper, they created the Facebook knitting group.

The group’s members range from 11-year-old Melody Barrett, who donated a scarf she made as a school project, to Sharlene’s 90-year-old former primary teacher, who knitted “eight beautiful scarves” for the group.

Sharlene and Freda (right) have been “stunned” by the generosity of the public and have received large discounts on wool from Variety Plus and Something Crafty in Upper Hutt.

“All the love people are putting into their creations is spectacular,” says Freda.

“We’ve got one member who travelled from Nelson to Dunedin in a truck, and knitted all the way with a headlamp on and turned out seven pairs of slippers for us.”

She and Sharlene are now calling for donations of wool and pre-paid courier bags for group members to post creations to them in Upper Hutt.

At present, the group is making more woollen clothes for the Year 3 students at Taita Central.

Freda and Sharlene say they plan to “warm up the whole of Wellington, school by school.”

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is a Whitireia journalism student, most passionate about the arts and social justice issues. Sometimes, she even combines the two.
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  1. I am very impressed with what you ladies are doing. I would also like to help. I knitted when my children were young and now not so fast at doing garments and dont knit anymore but would like to help you

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