The videos of animals whose lives have been impacted by Australia’s bushfires are hard to forget. Koalas soak their singed paws in water at rescue centers. Kangaroos hop away with smoke at their feet, as flames engulf their habitats.
“It broke my heart,” says Roxborough resident Lauren Helge, who viewed the videos on social media and the news and wanted to help the animals. “[The bushfires] destroyed so much of the wildlife’s habitats, especially the koalas.”
Helge began searching for ways to donate money to help the animals, but felt that what she could afford to financially contribute would be “a drop in the bucket compared to what they needed.”
Then a cousin shared with her a Facebook group called Rescue Craft Co. that was creating items to help the injured animals. That Helge knew she could do.
Since joining Rescue Craft Co. last Sunday, Helge has crocheted two nests for birds whose homes may have been damaged by the fires, and plans to keep making them during her nights off from her job as an assembly worker at Gwynedd Manufacturing. Each nest takes several hours to complete. “You have to keep the stitches very tight, so no little bird feet get stuck,” she says.
Helge, who is 28, has always loved animals. Originally from Texas, her pets growing up included a fire-bellied toad named Pumpkin. Currently, she has three rescue cats and plans to foster more in the future. She hopes to one day become a wildlife rehabilitator so that she can help animals full time.“When I was a kid my favorite show was the Crocodile Hunter and all kinds of veterinarian shows on Animal Planet like The Incredible Dr. Pol,” she notes.
Helge taught herself to crochet and loom knit, at first so she could make gifts for friends and family. “Recently I’ve been more focused on using my crafting skills for charity,” she says. She uses her expertise to make washcloths for women’s homeless shelters in Philadelphia, and once she’s done crocheting for the animals in Australia, she plans to start making blankets for babies in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit through the charity Knots of Love.
So far, 20 people and half a billion animals have lost their lives in Australia’s bushfires, which have ravaged the country for months; another half a billion animals have been affected in some way. For some species, like the mouse-sized dunnart, this means they’re facing extinction.
Animals that have survived the fires have severe burns and many are in the care of rescue groups. Morgan Leigh, who lives in a coastal town in Australia, saw many of the viral videos of kangaroos and koalas whose fur was singed and whose skin suffered burns during the fires. The images kept her up at night.
Leigh, who owns a clothing company and sews for a living, started making pouches and koala mittens; eventually, several friends joined her and after a local radio station interviewed her, she was flooded with emails from people asking how they could help. That’s when she created the Rescue Craft Co. Facebook page.
“It’s really heart warming to see all these strangers from all over the country and other countries as well connecting all to help these poor injured animals out,” she says.
“It was incredible the response!” Leigh says. “It was so incredibly heartwarming and overwhelming. It made us all feel that collectively we could help in a situation that felt so out of our control.”
Rescue Craft Co. grew quickly, amassing 1,000 followers in 30 minutes. Currently, it has over 65,000 members, including Helge. The group makes nests, pouches for joeys, koala mittens, and bat wraps for the animals in need. They’ve also inspired spin-off groups in other countries, called Canadian Animal Rescue Guild and UK Crafters for Australia Animal Rescue Effort.
Since finding Rescue Craft Co., Helge has tried to spread the word, noting that the organization still needs more help. “If you’re crafty, especially good at sewing, then join Rescue Craft Co.,” she says. “Even if you aren’t, people are volunteering to send others money or supplies so they can produce the items needed, or offering to pay for shipping. It’s really heart warming to see all these strangers from all over the country and other countries as well connecting all to help these poor injured animals out.”
Helge says giving back locally is also important to her—she and her fiancé regularly donate blood at the local American Red Cross, and she encourages friends to get involved and volunteer when they can—even if it’s something small.
For her, it helps to counter the anger and hate she sees in the world. “We need people to reach out to one another,” she says. “I think the best way we can live our lives to our fullest potential is to help those around us. It’s the best feeling in the world when I can make some else’s day even in small ways like paying for the person behind me at Starbucks, donating canned goods to food banks.”Header images courtesy Lauren Hegle.