It started with a Facebook post.
Actor Kerry O'Malley scrolled across an SBS News article about a Dutch quilter making mittens for koalas injured in the Australian wildfires. Not a quilter or a sewer, O’Malley tagged her friend and fellow actor Rebecca Watson, “an exquisite crafter” and ensemblist in Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
“After reading the article Kerry tagged me in on Facebook, I immediately wanted to help,” says Watson. “[The article] provided a pattern, I had fabric, and I began. There was something I could do.”
Since the Australian wildfires began in September 2019, an estimated 20 million acres—the size of Vermont and New Hampshire combined—have been decimated across the country. As of January 6, 136 fires still flamed across the New South Wales; fires also rage in Victoria and South Australia. More than 1 billion animals have already died.
But Australians and citizens around the world have mobilized to rescue the surviving creatures, individually as well as their species, from extinction.
Volunteers at institutions like the Port Macquarie Koala Hospital have been aiding National Parks and Wildlife service crews to rescue and treat koalas affected by the fires. Veterinarians at places like the Kangaroo Island Wildlife Park labor furiously to save animals. The grassroots organization WIRES (The NSW Wildlife Information, Rescue and Education Service) receives 1,000 help requests each day. Koalas suffering with burnt paws, kangaroos with singed foot pads, brushtail possums with burnt fur, are all being treated, as are wombats, wallabies, flying foxes, bats, and more. But they need supplies to do so.
Watson and the folks at Broadway’s To Kill a Mockingbird have stepped up, as well. “I began sewing mittens at home,” says Watson. “Then I took the pattern into the Shubert Theatre’s wardrobe room asking if anyone would want to help. Immediately, William [Mellette, a dresser] began sewing, I cut and pinned, Kathleen [Mack, a dresser] worked on finishing, and Antoinette [Martinez, the wardrobe supervisor] collected info for updates.” The Mockingbird team has grown to include another dresser, Mia Mooney, as well as deck audio operator Janet Smith.
Mittens made of flannel, cotton—nothing synthetic—have piled up backstage. The team began working on “joey pouches” for wallabies and kangaroos. But Animal Rescue Craft Guild is also calling for bat wraps, possum pouches, and more.
“They are using these items not only for healing, but for transportation and providing places for the animals to live and survive outside their natural habitats, which have been destroyed,” Watson says.
She hopes that more in the Broadway community and beyond may want to contribute. Sewers can help by making joey pouches, hanging joey pouches, bat wraps, quilts, and blankets (but nothing hand-sewn); crocheters can make birds’ nests, blankets, joey pouch outers, and animal jumpers; while knitters can make blankets, joey pouch outers, and animal jumpers, as well. Patterns, approved supply lists, and more can be found courtesy of the Animal Rescue Craft Guild. Of course, Broadway Cares has also awarded $100,000 in emergency grants to NSW Rural Fire Services and Brigades and WIRES.
The Mockingbird family send their crafts direct to Australia, but notes that there are many ways for other crafters to help and get their products overseas, including U.S. addresses listed by the Animal Rescue Craft Guild. (The Rescue Collective, Animal Rescue Collective, and Animal Rescue Craft Guild are all one team backed by the charity Mini Kitty Commune.)
“There are people all over the world joining,” Watson exclaims. “Even the smallest amount of help is good.”
For more information or to start your own project, visit Animal Rescue Craft Guild here.
To find your local drop-off location, click here.
To donate funds to cover the costs of supplies and postage, click here.