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Local carvers spread “comfort” in uncertain time

May 21, 2020   ·   0 Comments

Wood has an inner warmth when you hold it in your hands.

To some, it symbolizes strength. To others, it offers fuel. To artists, it is a source of nearly limitless possibilities.

For wood carvers at the Aurora Seniors’ Centre and the Aurora Cultural Centre, all of these things ring true; but, now left in their hands, simple blocks of wood are being transformed into pieces designed to provide comfort for bereaved individuals in Aurora, King and Richmond Hill.

Led by Marlene Ash and Mel James, the carvers are using this downtime to create “Comfort Birds”, symbols of hope for members of Hope House Hospice’s Comfort Café.

Before the present situation forced all programming to go virtual, the Comfort Café was a drop-in program hosted by Hope House (formerly Hospice King Aurora) for men and women experiencing the death of a loved one.

It’s a program that provided great comfort to Marlene following the passing of her husband and fellow carver, Fred, 15 months ago, and now Marlene has rallied her local wood carving community to help pay it forward.

“The idea for Comfort Birds stemmed from one Fred and I had done with the seniors years ago with Christmas bags with comfort birds for Cobblestone Lodge,” says Marlene of helping brighten the day for residents of the retirement home at Yonge and Kennedy. “When this pandemic hit so many people, being shut in and lonely having lost their mates or someone close, I thought it would be a really nice idea to give them a Comfort Bird.”

Marlene took her idea to the Aurora Senior Wood Carving Group, a group she and Fred helped found, as well as carvers Ms. Ash teaches at the Cultural Centre, and both groups immediately took the idea to heart.

“They are the wind beneath my wings,” says Ms. Ash. “All I did was put forth an idea.”

But the idea, in turn, also posed a logistical challenge for the Senior Wood Carvers as the tools that are particularly part of their trade are behind the doors of the Aurora Seniors’ Centre, which is presently closed due to emergency orders.

“When Marlene asked if our group could make Comfort Birds during this difficult period, it posed a challenge as our workshop was closed,” says Mel James, who now leads the Senior group. “Fortunately, several members had band saws at home and were able to cut out many blanks from wood we were able to find. The wood was basswood, pine, cedar, butternut and poplar. These blanks were distributed to our members. We have been able to complete approximately 20 and there are more in production.

“We find carving a Comfort Bird therapeutic. They are of simple design, so we are able to carve with the wood grain, work from memory and let the wood present itself to the carver. The grain the wood becomes the dominant feature as the shape of the bird is smooth and of limited definition. The bird fits into your hand easily, it’s smooth and can be slowly rotated in your hand. This allows your mind to relax for a moment – and this helps you to relax. It does become a companion over time.”

This is a sentiment shared by Marlene, who adds: “Wood is a very warm thing to hold and I think creating something that gives someone comfort and just something to hold gives you great comfort. Wood carving is something that comes from within you and you pass on that feeling of comfort to someone else. It shows people you are thinking of them, someone cares and is giving you a gift – and that gives me a good feeling as well.”

Carving student Cindi Stewart also shares this feeling, adding that she sees the initiative spreading beyond Hope House.

“I am talking to people. I am mentioning it to them, and I am finding basically everybody wants one,” she says. “Everybody needs some form of comfort right now, so they seem to be a popular item and it is just nice to be a part of that.”

Due to COVID-19 restrictions, the carvers aren’t able to go around and deliver the birds in person. Instead, distribution is being handled through Hope House, located on Industrial Parkway South, and their volunteers.

Marlene packages each completed bird in brown paper bags which she then transforms with ribbons and cards into a nice gift bag for each recipient.

For more information on how to become involved with the Comfort Birds program for Hope House Hospice, email Marlene Ash at

By Brock Weir



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