The puppet master
Senior has made thousands of finger puppets for children getting bloodwork
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.