Skip to content

Local retiree supplies a doll a day for kids at hospital

June O’Leary has knit over more than Izzy dolls for children that come to GBGH since she started knitting the dolls about six years ago and shows no signs of stopping

A parent’s greatest wish for their child is that they will be better than us.

Maybe June O’Leary’s mother thought her daughter would surpass her in knitting when she taught O’Leary as precocious seven-year-old.

Did she know that eventually June O’Leary would knit one doll a day for charity?

The 94-year-old resident at Tiffin Place in Midland spends each day knitting an Izzy doll.

Izzy dolls started out as extra packing in humanitarian aid kits that padded the medical supplies. Since the Izzy dolls started making their way into children’s hands during the Iraq war in the 1990s, 1.3 million children in conflict areas or areas hit by natural disasters have received an Izzy doll.

O’Leary’s Izzy dolls are donated to Georgian Bay General Hospital for children.

“They’re a comfort doll,” explains O’Leary. “When you give a child something they can cuddle they’re not so scared.”

For the last six years, O’Leary has knit one doll a day. That means that more than 2,000 local children have found a stuffed friend to help them be brave at the local hospital.

That’s a lot of dolls.

“When I came to Tiffin House, I saw they had a knitting club. At the time, I knitted dishcloths. Then, I saw one woman making them, and they had them on display. So, I took one home and copied it,” explains O’Leary.

When she found out they had a pattern later she laughs.

The fact that she simply counted the knits involved in an Izzy doll and made a copy tells you a lot about O’Leary.

The committed volunteer has always given her time to various organizations.

After retiring to Victoria Harbour, she spent some time working with the cats at the Ontario Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals. That is, until she found out she was allergic to cats.

O’Leary also spent a lot of time at the YMCA and with the local Probus Club. 

As for the Izzy dolls she knits, she says they’re easy to make.

“I just wish more people would make them,” she explains.

Since her friend that introduced her to the adorable stuffed dolls passed about, O’Leary has been the only person making the dolls at Tiffin Place.

All you need is four needles, and know how to make the knit stitch, there is no purling, and you change to different colours.

The supplies for the dolls and the knitting club at Tiffin Place are provided by donations from people in the community.

Often, O’Leary says that people donate their old yarn when they come to live at the retirement home.

Every two weeks, a volunteer, who helps with the knitting club and also volunteers at the hospital, collects 14 to 15 dolls, meaning O’Leary sometimes knit more than one doll a day.

“SickKids (in Toronto) wanted them too,” says O’Leary of the Izzy dolls that bring comfort to young people every day at GBGH. “I didn’t think I could supply SickKids, because they would need so many."

Perhaps if other knitters joined in the trend, these adorable six-inch, snuggly friends could help more children in need.

For a knitter that surpassed her own teacher’s (mother’s) knitting skills soon after she learned the craft, O’Leary makes it sound like something she could do in her sleep.

At one doll a day for the last six years, maybe she does knit in her sleep.The ever humble helper says she volunteers because she feels she’s needed.

“They need volunteers for everything. What would I be doing anyways? Sitting at home knitting or reading a book. The three things I do most are volunteer, knit, and read,” says O’Leary frankly.

Each day, you can find O’Leary with her bucket of knitting supplies happily creating a new doll, or walking back and forth to the Martyrs' Shrine (nearly four kilometers roundtrip).

“Sometimes, I think I’m the laughing stock,” says O’Leary, because of how much she does each day compared to some of the other residents at Chartwell Tiffin Retirement Residence.

Laughing in awe, maybe.

To learn more about Izzy dolls, visit