The pup­pet mas­ter

Se­nior has made thou­sands of fin­ger pup­pets for chil­dren get­ting blood­work

The Amherst News - - FRONT PAGE - BY DAR­RELL COLE

He­len Smith has taken great joy at bring­ing sev­eral thou­sand smiles to chil­dren dur­ing what can be a trau­matic time.

For 32 years, the 87-year-old Amherst woman has knit­ted tiny fin­ger pup­pets that have been given to chil­dren un­der­go­ing blood­work at the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre.

“It fills my heart with joy to know that what I’ve done has brought a smile to a lit­tle boy or girl,” said Smith, who es­ti­mates she has made more than 5,000 of the colour­ful pup­pets. “I’ve loved ev­ery mo­ment of it and I’m go­ing to miss do­ing it so much.”

What ini­tially started as a project by the United Church Women at Trinity-St. Stephen’s United Church, quickly grew into a labour of love for Smith. Her late hus­band, Robert, would help her by wind­ing the yarn and count­ing as she com­pleted each tiny pup­pet.

She started with a set pat­tern that was given to her, but she quickly adapted that pat­tern to fill her needs and she would go to great lengths to come up with dif­fer­ent colours. Some years, she made as many as 300 of the pup­pets, but more re­cently the num­ber has dropped for health rea­sons.

On Tues­day, Oct. 16, she brought her last bag of pup­pets to the UCW meeting so it can be turned over to the hos­pi­tal. There are pur­ple ones, pink ones, blue ones and white ones. Each one is in­tri­cately made with dif­fer­ent colours for the eyes, mouth and nose. And each one has squig­gly hair.

Un­for­tu­nately, the thing she loves to do most will be lost be­cause of arthri­tis in her hands.

“I’ve just loved do­ing it, but I can’t any­more. My fin­gers and hands just won’t let me,” she said. “Hope­fully, some­one else will keep it go­ing.”

Fel­low UCW mem­ber, Ida Roode, said Smith has been amaz­ing with her ded­i­cated to the project that pre-dates the mem­ber­ship of most mem­bers of the group. Smith is a 50-yearplus mem­ber of the UCW at Trinity-St. Stephen’s.

“She’s amaz­ing and she should be lauded for ev­ery­thing she has done. She has been a great am­bas­sador for us,” Roode said. “I can imag­ine how th­ese lit­tle pup­pets would bring a smile to the face of a child who is hav­ing blood­work or in the emer­gency room at the hos­pi­tal.”

Elexa Dou­glas, a lab­o­ra­tory tech­nol­o­gist at the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre, has seen the fin­ger pup­pets in ac­tion.

“The kids al­ways love them and it’s re­ally funny be­cause some of the younger adults re­mem­ber them when they come in with their chil­dren. They re­ceived them when they were kids. She’s been do­ing them for that long,” Dou­glas said. “The fun thing about them is they are all dif­fer­ent colours and they all look dif­fer­ent. The kids love pick­ing their own colour and it’s a nice dis­trac­tion. You can imag­ine hav­ing your blood taken is not the most fun thing, es­pe­cially when you’re one or two years old. It’s good for the par­ents too be­cause they’ll use them to tickle their child and help take their mind off what we’re do­ing.”

Dou­glas is also hope­ful some­one will pick up Smith’s tra­di­tion be­cause it’s some­thing staff – and par­ents – ap­pre­ci­ate so much.


He­len Smith of Amherst holds up some of the fin­ger pup­pets she has made for chil­dren at the Cum­ber­land Re­gional Health Care Cen­tre. The 50-year mem­ber of the Trinity-St. Stephen’s UCW has made thou­sands of the pup­pets over 32 years, but has had to stop be­cause of arthri­tis.

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