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Calgary teen knits 101 toques for city’s vulnerable people

When Calgary teen Allysa Narang was five years old, a bout of pneumonia kept her home from school for a spell.

That when her mom, Anis, first taught her how to knit.

Allysa didn’t start knitting regularly until she was 10 years old. And for the last two years, the now-14-year-old has knitted 80 toques to help keep Calgary’s disadvantaged warmer during the winter.  This year, she aimed even higher: The target was 100.

She dropped off 101 toques last Saturday to the Calgary Drop-In Centre’s Donation Centre.

“I know Calgary winters can get really cold and it’s important to stay warm. Especially if you are homeless,” said Allysa, who attends Grade 9 at Arbour Lake School.  

“I don’t have money to donate, but knitting is something I can do for them with my time and create something new just for them.”

Sparkly yarn is Alyssa’s favourite fabric, and the design she enjoys creating most is a spiral.

“I like that pattern because it looks like the top of an ice cream cone,” she said.

The biggest hurdle over the past year in accomplishing her knitting goal, of course, is homework. And it’s been even more since she started Grade 9.

‘She takes it very seriously…’: Mom

Her mom is naturally quite proud of her daughter. She and her husband have watched their daughter work diligently on the knitting and creating rainbow loom bracelets and charms for kids at the Alberta Children’s Hospital.

“She takes it very seriously, and puts so much thought into colours, designs, and sizes so that anyone who might happen to pick something, she makes sure there’s a good selection to choose from,” said Anis.  

“(Allysa) always says that she wants everyone to find something that makes them happy.”

Anis said she’s seen her daughter’s focus shift from keeping people warm to the desire to bring a little happiness into the recipients’ lives. She recalled it beginning when the pair saw a homeless man and his dog outside a Calgary Walmart location with a sign asking for help.

Allysa told her mom she thought neither looked very happy. They bought groceries for the man and the dog, and when they approached, the dog’s big tail was thumping against the ground.

“The immediate feeling for Allysa was that we were able to make them both happier,” Anis said.

Knitting toques a family effort

Mom buys the yarn. Both parents spend countless hours at the store while Allysa takes care in choosing colours for the toques.

“My husband is a saint. No man has spent more time at a Michaels than he has,” Anis said.

Allysa said she just wants to make a difference.

“I think it is important to help other people who really need help. Even small things like hats can make a difference, especially if you are homeless,” she said.

“Their lives can be really hard, and I hope my hats help make a difference for them. When I see people who need help, I feel really bad for them and it makes me want to do something to make their day a little easier.”

Winter time means increased demand for services: DI

The Calgary Drop-In Centre said Allysa’s effort is a special one every year.

“Having, especially youth, see that need in our community and are realizing that not everybody’s every day looks the same as theirs, and there’s a need out there for these kinds of things, is so inspiring,” said Sarah Woods, manager of community engagement with the DI.

It’s a time of year where demand increases, especially for warm, outdoor clothing like toques, Woods said. They rely on donations for this apparel. There’s a clothing station open twice a week for their community, and when they get items as simple as a toque, it makes a difference.

“When somebody needs something as simple as a toque – that might seem easy to you or I – it goes a really long way when you’re needing that kind of support,” Woods said.

“That’s one thing we can kind of help people cross off their list.”

Allysa was a 2019 finalist for the Western Legacy Awards for her ongoing effort to knit the toques.