Arya Bochantin displays a finished sewn pouch, with a stuffed animal inside to show that it’s big enough to fit a sugar glider. (Kira Erickson / Whidbey News-Times)

Arya Bochantin displays a finished sewn pouch, with a stuffed animal inside to show that it’s big enough to fit a sugar glider. (Kira Erickson / Whidbey News-Times)

Whidbey kids sew pouches for orphaned baby animals in Australia

The pouches are sewn inside-out, so the softest part of the fabric touches the baby animal.

In some cases, social media really can serve as the great unifier.

When Kaili Slate and Denice Bochantin saw the devastation wildfires had been causing in Australia, they wanted to use their sewing skills to help the suffering wildlife.

They learned from Facebook groups Animal Rescue Craft Guild and Relief Crafters of America that they could sew nests and pouches for the joeys and other orphaned baby animals to live in.

“I’ve been wanting to donate in some way,” Bochantin said, “but I didn’t have a lot of available money. But I have a lot of available fabric.”

Bochantin, whose children attend Calyx Community Arts School at South Whidbey State Park, encouraged the school community to get involved with the rescue efforts, inviting families into her own home and teaching them how to sew.

Bochantin’s daughter Arya, who likes sewing, has helped make pouches for the wildlife. They hosted a pouch-making party on a recent Sunday. Arya’s classmates Rio Goette, 7, and Bella Bond, 10, joined in the fun.

“The patterns are really pretty,” Arya said about her favorite part of the project. The 7-year-old added that they probably have “every single fabric there is.”

“I like that they help baby animals,” Bella said.

The Facebook groups share information about patterns, everything from hanging bags for baby kangaroos to wraps for bats to tiny pouches for sugar gliders.

Requirements for the materials are also posted. Fabric and thread must be from natural fibers, such as cotton, wool or bamboo. Pouches are typically sewn inside-out, so the softest part of the fabric touches the baby animal.

“These guys really put in some time to learn all the steps,” Bochantin said. “It’s the most complex pattern that we’ve been using. Bella helped to put together the template and figure out the first one, which is always the hardest.”

A kangaroo lover since visiting Australia at a young age, Slate volunteers as a point of contact those looking to get involved. They can contact her through the Facebook pages mentioned above.

“There are so many people that value handmade items,” she said, “so it’s not surprising that there’s been so many people interested in this on the island.”

The first batch of sewn items have been sanitized and wrapped in clean plastic and sent to a contact in Bellevue, who will send the pouches to Australian relief groups.

“Animals and this kind of work transcends political views, transcends borders,” Slate said. “It’s really been bringing people together for a common purpose. I’ve met a lot of really amazing people.”

For Bochantin, the crisis in Australia and the response of volunteers across the world has been a teaching moment for her kids.

“These animals are ambassadors for other species that are facing extinction on a daily basis,” she said. “If we can garner this type of passion for animals halfway around the globe, how can we draw that back to local rescues?”

She mentioned they are looking for ways to move their energy toward helping local animal rescue groups.

The Australian Facebook groups have asked the crafters to cease sewing while they evaluate what is needed for further animal rescue efforts.

Bochantin said the greatest demand now is food, because the fire destroyed so much habitat. Groups are asking for donations to go toward that.

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