May 8, 2014
For 18 years and going strong, James Durka, Grade 4 Teacher with St. Patrick’s Elementary School in Caledonia, Ontario has been behind a knitting project called “Patches from Heaven.” The project started as a small knitting project but has grown tremendously thanks to numerous volunteers and thousands of dollars in charitable donations.
“It all started one year when one of my first Principals challenged the teachers to do something totally different at Christmas time,” Mr. Durka said.
From there, Mr. Durka contacted “Warm up Canada” to visit the school to teach the students how to knit. “Two years into the program,” Mr. Durka said, “a student’s mom approached me and told me that I have to be a role model for the students, and that I would have to learn how to knit.”
Being left-handed, Mr. Durka found it challenging to knit, especially a holey patch which was the first patch he learned to knit; but, he overcame that obstacle with encouragement and instruction from his wife along with some inspiring words from the parent who told Mr. Durka not to look at the patch as a holey patch, but as a “Holy Patch.”
Mr. Durka spoke of the tremendous efforts made by the students and the volunteers who donate their time. The charitable project he said, “Involves a group of students ranging from 8-10 year olds who sacrifice their recess, nutrition breaks and home time to sew the blankets together.”
Although hundreds of volunteers have come and gone since the program began, Mr. Durka said, a group of senior ladies from Hamilton who live at the El Mirador apartments regularly dedicate their time to knitting patches.
“Mrs. Connell, one of the knitting volunteers, has been instrumental in organizing the knitting group. Because of the help from these generous ladies, the amount of patches knit has dramatically increased,” he said.
The program is on its way to reaching their 1,200 blanket being knit since the program began. “It takes approximately 80 hours to make the blankets from start to finish, and the cost ranges from $35-40 for each blanket, Mr. Durka added.
“I was also blessed with many companies who made monetary donations so I could purchase wool to keep the program running,” Mr. Durka said. He added, “In total over 20,000 dollars was donated.” The donations made to the program so far have been impressive.
Donations are made once a year at the beginning of December so the organizations can prepare their Christmas hampers, Mr. Durka said. “The Good Shepherd and Mission Services of Hamilton have been the recipients of the blankets annually,” he said.
“The reason I selected the two organizations is because Hamilton has the highest poverty ratio in Ontario,” Mr. Durka said.
Mr. Durka feels the responsibility as a Catholic educator to lead students in their faith and to inspire them as the next generation of Catholic ambassadors. “What better way to feel good about going out and walking in the footsteps of Christ than to help those in need,” he said.
The “Patches from Heaven” program has even inspired Mr. Durka to write a children’s short story book called The Holey Patch inspired by the program that he would like to have published some day to encourage children everywhere about helping others through Christ’s message that you can help many people through a small act of faith.
He is not alone in this as the St. Patrick’s Elementary School community and students have been involved in projects to help those in need over the last eighteen years.
“St. Patrick’s School always reaches out to help the less fortunate through many outreach programs,” Mr. Durka said. He added, “That is why we have come to be known as the little school on the hill with the big heart.”