In 2016, artist Joan Naylor’s life was changed by a month-long stint volunteering at a refugee camp in Calais, France, where she and husband Andre met hundreds of unaccompanied children. Since then, she has made it her mission to help as many as possible through her charity Animal Hats for Refugee Children.
“I came up with the idea to put funny animals on caps I knitted because my granddaughter would not keep a hat on until I made her one with an animal,” says Naylor. “I decided to start selling them and they were a hit.”
Naylor enlisted friends and members of Jubilee Community Church in Asheville, to help with the project. They started with hand-knitted hats, then began including those that were gently used. All stuffed animals are gently used as well. Volunteers clean all components and de-bean and re-stuff the animals to decrease their weight before sewing. Hats are available in all styles and sizes for children and adults. All proceeds go to the organizations Care4Calais, Home for All and One Happy Family, or directly to refugees in need.
“Joan’s and Andre’s dedication and passion for helping refugees is nothing short of amazing,” says Dvorah Hirsch, who assists with the hat-making project. “They pour their hearts and souls into it, not just with the hats but with ongoing emotional support for families in need.”
Funds are used to purchase a variety of items including food, shoes, blankets, sleeping bags, and coats and other winter clothing. Sometimes train or bus fare is provided in order to help families reach a country where they may be granted asylum. Many of the refugees who receive assistance go on to help others once they are in a position in which they are secure enough to do so. Tamim Rahini, originally from Afghanistan, is one such individual. He met Naylor while volunteering at Hope Café in Athens, Greece.
“In Athens, I saw how the children were suffering, looking for food, sleeping on the street,” says Rahini, who now lives with his wife and two surviving children in Germany. “Ms. Joan Naylor helped so much and gave me the power to help these people also. My family and I really appreciate her humanity and her personality.”
Animal hats and other handmade items are available for purchase at JoanNaylor.com. Learn more at Facebook.com (Joan Naylor Studio), gofundme.com/f/animal-hats-for-refugee-children-2020, joannaylor.blogspot.com, or by emailing email@example.com. Links to organizations Animal Hats for Refugee Children supports are facebook.com/care4calais, ohf-lesvos.org, facebook.com/HomeForAllOfficial and https://homeforall.eu/about-us.