While wildfires rage across Australia, people around the world have been offering aid of all types to the people and animals affected by the catastrophic fires.

A group of dedicated Rome residents is doing its part to help those who need it most.

The Rome Knitterati, a group of local crocheters and knitters, has decided to send help to the thousands of animals rescued from the fires. They’re knitting a variety of items that the animals need while they’re being cared for in rescue facilities and homes across Australia.

“When the fires first started, someone posted on social media that there were lots of koalas that needed mittens,” said Melissa Rutledge, founder of Rome Knitterati. “Then after the holidays it all just blew up. We realized how devastating the fires were and just how much help they needed.”

The blazes, which have been burning across Australia for months, have razed homes and wiped out entire towns. Across the country, nearly 18 million acres of land have been burned — much of it bushland, forests and national parks, home to the country’s beloved and unique wildlife.

Nearly half a billion animals have been impacted by the fires in NSW alone, with millions potentially dead, according to ecologists at the University of Sydney. That figure includes birds, reptiles, and mammals, except bats. It also excludes insects and frogs — meaning the true number is likely much higher.

The total number of animals affected nationwide could be as high as a billion, according to Christopher Dickman, the University of Sydney ecologist who led the report.

Rutledge said Jennifer Baldwin, with Vintage Revival in Calhoun, found out about a worldwide social media group called Animal Rescue Craft Guild.

“Jennifer is going to be sewing bags for the animals and she’s raising money for fabric for that,” Rutledge said. “She knows (the Rope Knitterati) do charity work so she let me know about the group. So we’re going to help from the knitting and crochet side.”

But how can knitters and crocheters in Rome, Georgia help injured and rescued koalas, wombats and flying foxes in another continent?

“We’re making pouches for joeys (baby kangaroos), we’re making bird nests and one of our members is even trying to knit sweaters for birds,” Rutledge said.

As the fires rage across Australia, thousands of animals are displaced from their natural habitats. Thousands are injured. Young are abandoned by their parents.

And as people attempt to help these animals, specific needs are relayed to the Animal Rescue Craft Guild. The group has posted its most immediate needs to the Facebook page and its hundreds of thousands of members worldwide.

Rome resident Lyndell Nelis is a native of Redcliffe, Queensland just north of Brisbane in Australia. She’s been living in Rome for over three years and during that time her passion for helping animals has led her to volunteer at PAWS, the Floyd County Humane Society as well as Floyd Felines.

For someone who has dedicated her life to helping animals in need, she finds herself deeply moved by the worldwide outpouring of support for the animals in her own country now.

Nelis just returned from Australia and visited areas heavily affected by the fires.

“My sister didn’t lose her home, but many of our friends have,” Nelis said. “The outpouring of support has been overwhelming. People are realizing on a global scale just how devastating this is.”

She said the extent of the visible damage is tremendous and we may never know the full extent to the way of life for many people in Australia as well as to the food and habitat for thousands upon thousands of animals.

“A lot of these animals are endemic to Australia,” she said. “They exist nowhere else. Their food and habitat have been destroyed on a massive scale. Land does regenerate but this will be a whole different scenario from fires in the past. I don’t think my country will ever be the same.”

Nelis said her sister and friends have taken in animals such as bats, birds and small mammals. Some have been injured but many simply have nowhere to go. Lots of locals are helping out by fostering the wildlife and sharing their homes with other families that have lost their homes.

“I’m so proud that Rome, Georgia has so many advocates and people willing to step in and help,” she said. “You can’t imagine how important every little bit helps and how that touches me. It’s the collective intentions and healing that go into every stitch of the items their making. It just goes to show how interconnected we really are. It’s hard to be so far away (from Australia) when this is happening and it’s very touching to have so many people message me and do what they can to help.”

At the moment, some of the most immediate needs are pouches for baby kangaroos, nests for birds and rodents, blankets, animal beds, animal sweaters, possum and bird boxes and hanging pouches.

“In the U.S., the group has set up various regions to facilitate collection and shipment,” Rutledge said. “Our regional hub is in Tennessee. So the items that we make here in Rome will be sent to Tennessee and from there they’ll be shipped to Australia as a large shipment or individuals who are flying to Australia, will take them as part of their luggage. Or depending on the cost, we might just ship our stuff straight to Australia.”

The Rome Knitterati is completely self-funded, Rutledge added, which means members purchase their own supplies. She said at the moment they’ve got all the yarn they need and will be working on these projects individually as well as at a planned stitch night this coming week.

Rutledge said members of Rome Knitterati knew they had to respond in light of the devastation.

“When you hear about something like this you’re just so frustrated,” she said. “You want to help and you don’t know how. The loss is so catastrophic it might feel like there’s nothing you can do to help. But it’s important to us to be able to take this hobby that we all love and possibly help a few of the animals to survive. The Animal Rescue Craft Guild is given us this great opportunity to do our part.”

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