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 From left, Lake Shore High School seniors Sydney Manor, Gabrielle Almquist and Emily Dillon, members of Melissa Todaro’s Design Studio interior design class, finish pouches for animals displaced by the Australian bushfires in class Jan. 23.

From left, Lake Shore High School seniors Sydney Manor, Gabrielle Almquist and Emily Dillon, members of Melissa Todaro’s Design Studio interior design class, finish pouches for animals displaced by the Australian bushfires in class Jan. 23.

Photo by Kristyne E. Demske


Lake Shore students sew to help Australia’s animals

By: Kristyne E. Demske | St. Clair Shores Sentinel | Published January 28, 2020

 Senior Kya Benjamin sews a pouch.

Senior Kya Benjamin sews a pouch.

Photo provided by Tasha Candela

 Senior Abi Berry, teacher Melissa Todaro and junior Andrea Friesmuth hold completed pouches.

Senior Abi Berry, teacher Melissa Todaro and junior Andrea Friesmuth hold completed pouches.

Photo provided by Tasha Candela

ST. CLAIR SHORES — Australia began burning in November, fueled by record-breaking temperatures and months of severe drought.

Since then, 30 people, including four firefighters, have been killed in the bushfires, and more than 10 million hectares of bushes, forests and parks across the continent have burned, according to the BBC. As of Jan. 21, the BBC reported that more than 60 fires were still burning in the states of New South Wales and Victoria.

Lake Shore High School senior Grace Lipinski said that she, along with many others, has watched the fires rip through Australia.

“It made me upset,” she said.

So when teacher Melissa Todaro suggested to students in her interior design class that they sew pouches for marsupials displaced by the fires, Lipinski and her classmates were happy to be able to do something to help.

“It made me excited that we could help, because you don’t always have money (to donate) and you can’t go there,” said senior Bailey Price.

Todaro said that students in her class participate in a sewing unit each year. First, they learned how to make scarves, some of which will be donated to the homeless, and following that, she said she usually has the students sew a pillow made out of an old T-shirt.

But as she watched news of the fires on her Facebook feed, she thought that having her students sew wildlife pouches might be a better idea. Her students would still be learning the concepts “and giving back at the same time.”

She reached out to several stores, looking for donations of fabric, and finally found one business willing to donate some supplies in Marysville. When she put a post on Facebook asking for donations, though, her classroom began overflowing with fabric and supplies from former students, teachers, staff and friends.

Todaro said the class didn’t have to purchase any fabric at all for the project.

The wildlife pouches are used to swaddle orphaned and displaced animals such as koalas, kangaroos, bats and sugar gliders that have been injured in the Australian bushfires. Todaro said that they were shipping them Jan. 23 to Operation Pouch Pals in California, where an anonymous donor was paying for the pouches to be flown to Australia.

None of the students knew how to sew before beginning the project, but Price said that “now I think I’m pretty good at it.”

“The hardest part was learning how to use the sewing machine. It takes a lot to get used to,” she added.

Lipinski said that now that she knows how to use the machine, it’s something she enjoys.

“Eventually, you pick it up and it’s a nice activity to keep you busy,” she said.