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Crafty Penetang Legion volunteer brings warmth to others

Local volunteer has been knitting blankets and dolls to bring comfort and joy to others both locally and around the world for more than 30 years

Humble is the volunteer who has given their time for so long they forget just how long they have been giving it.

That’s exactly the case for Toni Reynolds.

At 79 years young, it was her husband who reminded her she had been volunteering for over 30 years at the Penetanguishene Royal Canadian Legion Branch 68.

“I’ve been connected to the legion all my life,” says Reynolds, explaining that her father was in WWII, and her husband served in the Canadian Armed Forces during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Toni’s husband Joey was on the line while we conducted our interview by phone, and the pair helped each other out with pieces of information.

“When I joined up,” explains 81-year-old Joey, “Russia was trying to bring stuff into Cuba. I registered to go in if there had been an atomic bomb dropped, I would have been on the search and rescue team.”

Joey is involved with the legion selling raffle tickets and more. He’s even gained the nickname Two-Buck Joe for his fundraising efforts.

“We’re just volunteer people,” says Toni.

Toni’s volunteer efforts are a weekly affair with a team of about eight other talented crocheters and knitters who knit, purl and knot their beautiful creations to keep others warm and comforted.

The crafty pair are so hard at work making Afghan blankets that they lose count of the number of blankets they can make in a year.

As a best guess, their busy hands put together more than 150 Afghan blankets annually.

They have such an abundance of Afghans in fact, that they’ve started sending them to the veterans’ program at Sunnybrook Hospital in Toronto. For the last couple of years, they’ve sent about 100 blankets a year to the facility.

Locally, they provide veterans with Afghans for comfort, and a stocking for Christmas filled with stuffers like word search books, decks of cards and pens and pads of paper.

“This year, we’ve crocheted them a shopping bag to put on their walker or wheelchair to carry whatever they need with them,” says Reynolds.

Toni says there are about 40 veterans living in the area. The most notable based solely on his long and excellent life is named Norm — at 102 years-young, still living at home, people say he must have found the fountain of youth.

“Most people out there are very lonely” says Joey, clarifying that his wife Toni has always helped older people.

“She forgot to tell you, but before [COVID-19], she had a lot more knitters,” says Joey, who makes it clear that the circle of crafty ladies is there for each other as much as they are there for the veterans.

Blankets are not the only thing on the crafting table for these ladies.

They also knit Izzy dolls. Izzy dolls are six-inch tall knit dolls that are placed alongside humanitarian aid kits to pad the medical supplies. Once the kits reach their destination, the dolls are then handed out to the local children.

“It started in Iraq,” explains Joey, a soldier named master corporal Mark Isfeld brought a few dolls with him when he served in Iraq. His mother had knit them for the children caught in the conflict zone.

Since then, more than 1.3 million children in conflict areas or areas hit by natural disasters have received an Izzy doll.

Their joy at receiving an Izzy doll is due, in part, to the knitters here in Penetanguishene like Toni and the group that gathers at the Legion on Wednesdays to create comfort out of yarn for the love of others.

The knitters donate to many other organizations including Children’s Aid, and any family that’s fallen on hard times.

Toni Reynolds has been recognized as the volunteer of the year by the legion for her efforts (although she couldn’t say when that was).

Joey Reynolds was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal recognizing voluntary service.