It came as a shock to me to learn that more than 50% of newborn babies in Hawke’s Bay don’t have access to woollen clothing and live in cold, poorly insulated homes.

While there is great wealth in the province, there is also great deprivation. Fifty percent of the population in Hawke’s Bay is considered to be in the bottom two District Health Board quantiles (a similar rating system to school decile rankings) and recent statistics show that 53% of pre-school age children and school-age children need help – a total of 11,510 young people.

One of many community groups stepping up to support families in need is the Yarny Army. The group, with some 500 knitters nationwide on its Facebook page, started out as Yarn HB, founded in 2016 by Sandra McNair and Claire Rochester, in an effort to teach people to crochet. 

The Yarny Army was subsequently formed in May 2017 by Sandra McNair and Sue Stow in response to Out and About With Kids in Hawke’s Bay’s Gabby Allen’s call for woollens for the growing number of newborns leaving hospital without warm clothing. 

Membership grew, thanks to social media exposure, along with a sense of worth and belonging among fellow-knitters.

The importance of providing woollen clothing for babies is huge as newborns lack the ability to regulate their own body temperature and need to be swaddled in a natural fibre that breathes. Wool is the perfect choice to complement cotton and will help prevent overheating, which can happen with man-made fibres such as acrylic, leaving parents with one less thing to worry about.

It is said that it takes a village to raise a child, so it’s really fitting that one of the first gifts a new baby receives and is wrapped in is something that has been made with love, care and skill by members of the community.

Sandra told me that the Yarny Army’s newborn packs include a pure wool hat, booties, a vest or cardigan and a wool cot blanket. 

These packs are provided to Hawke’s Bay midwives, Plunket, Well Child Tamariki Ora, Family Start programmes provided by Te Taiwhenua o Heretaunga & Te Kupenga Hauora Ahuriri, Kahungunu Executive in Wairoa, Health Nurses from Wairoa and Dannevirke DHB, SCBU, Health Nurses and Pediatrics at the HB Hospital, Being Their Village, (a Napier-based charity supporting families in need), Decile 1 schools throughout Hawke’s Bay and kindergartens in low socio-economic areas.

A lot of knitting needles have been clicking in the past few years. In 2018, 4,500 knitted garments with a value of $24,500 were donated. In 2019 this grew to 6,400 items valued at $36,200, last year saw 6,090 items valued at $42,222 created and this year already, 2,700 knitted items valued at $22,000 have been lovingly made and donated.

In Hawke’s Bay there is a core group of about 50 avid knitters and Sandra would love even more. She says it’s a very therapeutic pastime and great for mindfulness, adding that, “You don’t have to be an expert knitter. You can start off knitting ‘peggy squares’ which are then sewn together to form a blanket and if you don’t know how to knit but would like to learn, that’s easy, we’ll help you.”

Most of the knitters using their time and expertise to create these made-with-love garments are retirees. Some knit at home while others enjoy the camaraderie and social interaction at the group’s regular meetings. Every second Friday of the month, members meet in the ‘At E’s’ Café in Havelock North at 7 pm; on the third Thursday of each month there’s a knitting session at the Duke of Gloucester in Taradale; and every Thursday morning around 20 members get their needles going while they chat at the Clive Hotel.

The engine room for the Yarny Army is located at The Print House in Treachers Lane, Havelock North.  When I visited, the storeroom shelves looked very colourful and well stocked but Sandra told me that what I saw on the shelves and in many of the boxes would be gone in a week.

Sandra McNair in the Yarny Army engine room

It’s a real team effort with the knitting brigade hard at work, volunteers sorting and packaging the gifts and others helping with distribution.

Income is generated by way of donations and selling a range of hats, scarves and baby clothes which are available at The Print House. All proceeds go towards purchasing wool, which is then provided to the knitters.

If you have any new wool to donate (or spare wool blankets in your linen cupboard) donations would be very welcome. The full-size blankets will be cut to cot size and edged and the wool passed on to the knitters to transform into useful items of clothing. There are three drop-off points – The Print House; Counting Stitches in Hastings and Skeinz in Napier. 

If you’d like to help out in any way, check out the group’s Facebook page or e-mail coordinator, Sandra McNair on:  yarnyarmy@mail.com

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