4-H club works to help animals injured in Australian wildfires

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Glacier View 4-H Club members, from left, Lux Bain, Cara McQuade, Patience Bain and Mirrer Bain, show off some of the items they have made to help animals injured in the wildfires in Australia. (Jeremy Weber/Daily Inter Lake)

One local 4-H club is working together with local crafters to help Australia care for the large numbers of animals injured as wildfires have burned more than 25.5million acres there over the past few months.

When Coram-based Glacier View 4-H Club President Patience Bain heard about a program that is sewing, knitting and crocheting pouches and nests to be used in the rehabilitation of the animals, she quickly organized her fellow club members to join in the cause.

“I really love animals and I wanted to do what I could to help,” she said. “The fires are a big deal and I thought we could help make a difference. I just kept thinking about the baby animals that could be saved with the items we are making.”

Christopher Dickman, a scientist and professor of ecology at University of Sydney, estimates 1 billion animals — including birds, reptiles and mammals (except bats) — have been killed in Australia’s wildfires, with countless others injured. In recent statements to the press, Dickman said kangaroos and koalas have been particularly hard hit by the fires, with as much as one-third of the koala population in the state of New South Wales having been killed and as much as a third of their habitat destroyed.

While koalas and kangaroos are spread across the Australian continent and are not in danger of being completely wiped out, other animals in more niche environments with smaller populations are feared to have been eradicated, including the eastern bristlebird, the mountain pygmy possum and the corroboree frog.

Photos from the burned locations include images of animals with singed fur, burned skin and worse.

Enter Australia’s Animal Rescue Craft Guild. What started as a small band of 1,000 members six months ago has ballooned to close to 200,000 members as of Friday, with many more members joining similar support groups across the globe. The group makes a number of items to help out, including kangaroo, wallaby and sugar glider pouches as well as knitted bird nests and more.

The American Rescue Crafters Connect group was formed on Facebook Jan. 4 and has already grown to 52,000 members in just six days. The group is further broken down into hubs around the U.S., each encompassing a number of states.

It was through the Montana group that Patience Bain’s mother, and Glacier View 4-H club leader KelleySue Bain heard about local efforts to help and passed the information on to the club.

With the help of the members of the newly formed Montana Craft for Australia group and others, the members of the Glacier View 4-H Club are hard at work gathering supplies and helping create the items needed.

“We haven’t had wildfires here as bad as what they are seeing in Australia right now, but most everyone in Montana has been affected by wildfires and they know what kind of damage they can do,” Patience said. “We just had to help.”

Along the way, the club members are gaining valuable knowledge and experience.

“We are learning a lot, not only about what the animals need and how to make it, but also about the process of getting something ready and shipping it overseas,” fellow Glacier View 4-H member Mirrer Bain said. “They are all good organizational skills.”

According to the club members, the items can take between 30 minutes and three hours to complete. Once items are completed, they have to be prepared for shipping, which can cost as much as $56 for every four pounds shipped.

To help combat those costs, crafting groups around the country have begun setting up GoFundMe accounts where anyone can donate toward the cost of shipping. The American Rescue Crafters Connect group has also arranged for crafters to send the items to regional staging areas, where they can be efficiently packed and shipped to help keep costs down.

For many around the state, the local crafting groups are presenting an opportunity to make a difference and help those facing a disaster half a world away.

“Australia is where my husband and I honeymooned and so it’s a special place for me,” Helena-based group member Maren Weber said. “I really enjoy knitting, but find I just knit to knit a lot. You can only make so many hats and scarves before you have too many. Making small, but impactful craft projects seemed like a great way to practice my skills for a purpose.”

“Everyone’s contribution is different. If you look at the posts in the groups there are crafters who are making items and non-crafters who are offering supplies and some that offering more logistical help. Everyone is helping in anyway they can,” fellow Helena member Katie Hand added.

While reports have begun circulating that the Australian craft guild has been overwhelmed by the number of items being sent to them, KelleySue Bain and the Glacier View 4-H Club says it will continue its efforts to help out.

“It’s not really a reason for us to stop. It’s not that they are not going to need these items, they are just getting overwhelmed right now. All of these items will get used, eventually,” she said.

Reporter Jeremy Weber may be reached at 758-4446.

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