Photo courtesy of Laurie Gilson.
The fires were raging. The fortunate animals, lucky to be alive, were displaced from their habitats. Animal welfare and rescue organizations stepped in and began caring for them -- some orphaned, some burned, others malnourished -- since they could no longer do so for themselves.
A half a world away Laurie Gilson, a third-year mechanical and metallurgical engineering student at Missouri University of Science and Technology and a member of Phi Sigma Rho Sorority’s Rho chapter, was reading about the devastation of the fires and saw that the animal rescue and rehabilitation organizations were asking for sewn donations of pouches, nests, and wraps -- concoctions that would mimic the animal’s real habitat and provide a warm, snuggly temporary home while they recuperated. Immediately upon seeing the request, Laurie “knew this would be a good way I could help.”
For as long as she can remember, Laurie has been sewing. At age 16, she taught herself to crochet because, as a huge Marvel fan, she wanted to make an Avengers doll. “After that I fell in love with the craft!” she said.
Through an online search, Laurie started working with Relief Crafters of America, a volunteer-run organization that “serves to direct handcrafted fiber products to groups in need.” At the time, the organization was largely focused on sending crafted goods to animal rehabilitation organizations in Australia. The organization promotes different projects and causes on a monthly basis.
“The main item I worked on were animal pouches,” she said. “These are essentially sacks with rounded bottoms and sturdy construction that provide a snuggly temporary home for the animals (like joeys and opossums). I also worked on bat wraps, which mimic a mama bat wrapping up a baby bat in her wings. Other items were hanging versions of the animal pouches, bat pouches, and crochet bird nests.”
Laurie began to realize that her efforts could also be needed locally as well.
“I was thinking about how rehabilitators in my area could use these as well, and not just for huge disasters but for everyday animal care,” she said.
She contacted Lakeside Nature Center in Kansa City, MO to find out what they might need, which prompted her to supply them with animal pouches, too.
She was planning on utilizing Phi Sigma Rho’s annual Service with Sigmand Week, a yearly spring event that encourages philanthropy and volunteerism within the sorority, as a way of getting her sorority sisters involved in making animal pouches for Lakeside Nature Center. Unfortunately, due to the ongoing global pandemic and the closure of college campuses, that project was put on hold.
As the pandemic has spread and our country’s need for personal protective equipment (PPE) has been highlighted, Laurie has refocused her sewing efforts into making fabric face masks to help with the nationwide shortages, another project sponsored by the Relief Crafters of America. With the help of her Phi Sigma Rho sisters, Laurie was able to supply a nursing home with enough masks to protect both their nurses and residents.
In addition to the face masks, Laurie continues to make animal pouches with the remaining scraps she has, and would like to continue to support future projects sponsored by Relief Crafters. When asked if she had a specific goal in mind with regards to ending the project, she responded, “My plan is to keep sewing until I run out of fabric! Our faculty advisor just donated a ton of extra fabric to me, so I’ll be busily sewing for a while!”