According to NBC News, an estimated 1 billion animals have been killed in Australia’s wildfires. In addition to dying from the flames, animals also have died from dehydration, starvation and habitat loss.
The fire also has impacted human lives: 25 people have died in the fire, almost 2,000 homes have been destroyed and more than 25 million acres of land have been burned since July 1.
Emmy Tofa of Rochelle has been following news coverage of the Australian fires, and when she heard about a local group wanting to help, she decided to get involved.
Tofa is a member of Illinois Wildlife Crafters, a group of nearly 600 people who make items, including nests and pouches, and send them overseas to Australia to help animals injured during the fires as they are rehabilitated.
In addition to crafting items, the group also is collecting craft and medical supplies and monetary donations. They have started a GoFundMe fundraiser to help with shipping and monetary donations.
The group also has goals to help local nonprofit organizations and charities, not just Australian wildlife.
Tofa spoke to MidWeek reporter Katrina Milton about Illinois Wildlife Crafters and the importance of helping the animals affected by the Australian fires.
Milton: Tell me more about Illinois Wildlife Crafters and what you do.
Tofa: I am a member of Illinois Wildlife Crafters, a local group that formed from Relief Crafters of America. Relief Crafters of America is divided into states and regions, and our group is smaller and more local. I have been making and collecting items to help the animals in Australia. I’ve made about 15 items so far. There’s a need in Australia for more crafted items all the time. Pouches are needed for joeys, nests are needed for smaller animals like possums and birds.
Milton: What animals do you craft items for?
Tofa: There’s a wide variety of animals we help: kangaroos, koalas, possums, birds, wallabies, sugar gliders, and bats. We are given specifications for injured animals and we’re told if there are specific needs. A koala needed mittens after its arms were burned. We’ve also made nests for smaller animals, like tawny frogmouth birds. The nests are for animals that lost their parents in the fire. The orphaned animals need the warmth and comfort of a nest.
Milton: Why is making the items so important?
Tofa: It is a long-term issue that won’t be resolved in a month or two. There are groups in Australia making and crafting items, but the need is so high. They’re overwhelmed. They estimate one animal needs upwards of 40 to 50 pouches as they recover. Having our help is a huge relief, a weight off their shoulders.
Milton: How are the items delivered to Australia?
Tofa: There are hubs in Illinois that collect the items we make. The items can be shipped over in a large one-time shipment or some people take a suitcase full of them when they travel to Australia. The items are given to different organizations, not one rescue. They’re divided up to be used where they’re needed most, whether that’s with individual rehabbers or fosters.
Milton: How can people help?
Tofa: In our Facebook group, our needs are broken down: sewers, knitters and crocheters and donations. We need fabrics, yarns and threads, but wool is one of our main needs because it’s harder to find and it costs more. Once we have the supplies needed, we sew, knit or crochet according to the patterns and detailed instructions. Then the items are collected, brought to local hubs and then shipped or sent overseas. Even if you’re not crafty, you can still help by donating to help with shipping costs.
Milton: How did you hear about Illinois Wildlife Crafters?
Tofa: I heard about the group through a friend, who shared a link on Facebook. I am a crochet artist and an artist as well. I have a skill I can offer, and they needed my help. I thought, ‘Why do they need my help across the world, and how can I help a problem that’s so far away?’ Then I learned that companies have helped sponsor the delivery of items, people have donated the supplies needed to make the items. Everyone is coming together to offer what they can. It’s become a large group of people, hundreds of thousands of people, working together worldwide. Even though Australia is halfway across the world, I think of the people and animals there being like a neighbor you can help. My mindset is that my neighbor needs help, and if I can help, I will.
Milton: Are there plans to do more than help animals in Australia?
Tofa: Our group, Illinois Wildlife Crafters, wants to help local charities as well. We’re looking to see if nonprofit organizations and groups locally need our help. We’d love to help local animal rescues and rehabs. Helping the animals in Australia is just our beginning. So many good things can develop from his, and I hope we can help our local community as well. I also hope to teach classes locally. There are a lot of people that want to help, and I think that shows how much our community cares.