le Dimanche 26 mars 2023
le Mercredi 25 décembre 2019 4:52 Autres - Others

The story of Maria Broeckx, local volunteer

Maria Broeckx — photo Cristiana Mandru
Maria Broeckx
photo Cristiana Mandru
For those who are skeptical about the salutary effects of volunteering on one's sense of happiness, which come from sharing one's time and work with one's community, Maria Broeckx's life story provides a potent argument in favor of it.

First, there is that contagious smile and cheerfulness, which makes everyone feel welcome in her universe. Happiness is a palpable presence that greets one right from the start, as Mrs. Broeckx opens her door to receive her visitors.

Then, of course, there are the hundreds of bags she has been helping to sew for the Victoria’s Quilts, from Arundel, Quebec, an association that offers handmade quilts to cancer patients throughout Canada, in a handmade bag. Hers have been the skilled hands behind approximately 1000 bags, all of different colors, designs and exhibiting varied patchwork, according to the different fabrics that Mrs Broeckx has received from admirers and supporters of her work.

« Knitting has always been a very important part of my life. I’ve learned it when I was in the first grade and it’s been with me ever since. That is my hobby. It keeps me busy, » she noted.

Mrs. Broeckx has been contributing to her community for over 20 years, through her knitting and stitching of every kind of fabric or yarn that comes into her capable hands. Last Friday, December 13, she did not forget the local Hawkesbury Food Bank, where she brought a bagful of knit tuques, scarves, slippers, baby booties and hats.

“This lady is an angel, said local Food Bank employee Stephanie Bierema. She is coming here every year and I am the one who greets her each time.”

Her reality has always been one of giving, that of a caregiver and a nurturer, as she recalls her childhood, and later, her young adult life, as the second daughter coming from a family of five children. Originally from Retie, Belgium, when she was 12 years old, she helped with babysitting her younger sister, cooking and any other activities with which her parents needed her support around the house and the family farm.

“When you wanted something to wear, you had to make it, there was no other choice. It was not like now, where you just go to the store and buy something. So that’s why I started knitting,” she said about the socio-economic climate at the time she was growing up.

Then, later on, when she had her own five children, fate brought more learning opportunities along her way. She was offered a job in a newly opened women’s wear shop. At first, she was not very sure she could manage all her new responsibilities, as a young mother of five small children. Eventually, she succeeded in teaching herself how to use a knitting machine, so well that she was able to teach others. These were the very first knitting machines on the market, and there were no sales representatives to do that, back then.

A little while later, the family house was bought by a pharmaceutical plant and the whole family had to move elsewhere. This is when they decided to make Canada their new home. That was 40 years ago. They bought a farm in Alfred, which they later sold to move to Hawkesbury, 20 years ago. Mrs. Broeckx was then retired and was looking for new ways to employ her skills.

First, there were Meals on Wheels, where she worked until the service no longer existed; then fate knocked at her door again, when she was offered a job at a boutique in a nursing home in Prescott Russell, while the owner was away on holidays. Ten years later, the owner gave over the boutique to Mrs. Broeckx. This is where she would spend her free time knitting for herself and later for residents of the nursing home.

One of her most successful projects consisted in stitching together leftovers of old clothing from family members (daughters’ wedding dresses, children’s first communion clothes, sons’ wedding tuxedos, etc.), so as to create a personalized handbag full of memories for residents of the nursing home.

“But that was a big mistake for me, she said, tongue in cheek. Everybody wanted one. Her mom was so happy! The bag represented her whole life!” noted Mrs. Broeckx about the idea that first started this new project. Word spread like wild fire among residents of the nursing home and their families, about the small handcrafted treasures that came out of Mrs. Broeckx’s talented hands. She did not request any payment for this; she did however accept the yarn or the fabric needed to handcraft these creations, which came in triple or quintuple amounts than what she needed, most of the time.

Before long, Mrs. Broeckx had a whole business going, with orders by residents and their families, which ranged from slippers, scarves, mittens, booties, even dolls, bunnies and teddy bears that she would knit for them. Then, along with the orders, came even more and more donations of wool and fabric, accumulating in her apartment, and which she decided to use for sewing the handbags she would sell or donate. Some of her bags and gifts were sold at the Hawkesbury Hospital gift shop, while some others were offered to the less fortunate or lonesome residents at the Prescott-Russell nursing home.

“When you’re in there [the nursing home in Prescott-Russell], you can observe better how their life is. Many residents have nobody (from their own family) who look after them. They have no more visitors! There was nothing left for them anymore. So, I decided to give them a pair of slippers. I made slippers for them on their birthdays. I knitted for them, nobody paid me for it, but I didn’t ask for it anyways, I don’t need that; you give it from your heart,” she said with a big sigh about many of the nursing home residents’ situation. That is why she decided to contribute in her own way to bring a little joy in their lives.

 “This is my prison,” she joked about her sewing room, where she keeps three sewing machines, and part of her handcrafted projects, leftover fabric, and all the paraphernalia needed to make all that magic come true.