'Finding my miracle': Communities give back after CTV Vancouver story
Metro Vancouverites donated bags and bags of yarn and crochet supplies to Catherine Richardson, 25, after hearing her inspiring story. (CTV News). Dec. 26, 2016.
Katelyn Verstraten, CTV Vancouver
Published Monday, December 26, 2016 1:11PM PST
Last Updated Monday, December 26, 2016 6:36PM PST
On a chilly day during December’s “snow-pocalypse”, I travelled to Port Moody with double my body weight in yarn donated by Metro Vancouverites.
While this may seem like a strange, new age aerobics routine, my mission had a more philanthropic purpose. I had recently written an article on a courageous young woman who had her life torn apart by a chronic and invisible disease called Ehlers-Danlos Syndrome (EDS) – and people around the Lower Mainland wanted to help.
Catherine Richardson, now 25, was just 18 when the inherited disease forced her to drop out of school, quit her job, give up her career dreams, and stop eating food entirely.
Yet despite having more reasons than the average person to succumb to negativity, Catherine created a new life for herself. She began a popular blog on her experiences living with a chronic illness, and has become a feisty advocate for those with invisible diseases around the world.
Oh, and she learned to crochet.
Richardson’s story had resonated with me on a deep level. Would I have been as brave if my world fell apart? Would I have been able to let go of my career goals, of the dreams I had since childhood, and embrace a new life?
Apparently I wasn’t alone in my musings, because in the days that followed the article’s publication, emails from people wanting to do something awesome for Catherine began pouring in.
I had mentioned in the story that Catherine loved crocheting, a hobby she picked up when she became ill. Suddenly I was racing around Metro Vancouver collecting donations from yarn stores – some who reached out to me and some I reached out to - that went above and beyond in an effort to spread some holiday joy.
Three Bags Full, Black Sheep Yarns, Urban Yarns, SweetGeorgia Yarns, and Baad Anna’s Yarn Store all made generous donations of gift cards, hand-dyed yarn, ceramic knitting bowls and more.
Janna Maria Vallee, co-founder of Everlea Textiles, dropped off a donation at CTV Vancouver one rainy weekend – then began soliciting donations from those involved in her Facebook community.
That’s when things really went to the next level: Carole Cameron, Trish Austad, Darleane Johnston and her daughter, Caitlin French, Heather from Port Coquitlam, and several other amazing people all dropped off beautifully wrapped packages and sacks and sacks of yarn.
The Port Moody-based shop Black Sheep Yarns even let me use their store as a drop-off point for generous members of the community to donate to Catherine. An employee went one step further, taking the Santa-like sack of yarn home with her so I could pick it up on a Monday, the only day the store is closed.
Then came the big day: feeling more like Santa than I ever have – and likely ever will – in my life, I took buses, SkyTrains, and a taxi to Port Moody to surprise Catherine with the yarn.
“Oh my gosh it was so amazing,” said Catherine, laughing as she recalled my cumbersome arrival at her home. “You showed up at my door carrying all this stuff, and I saw these bags of yarn and I got so excited because it’s yarn and I always get so excited about yarn. But it didn’t quite hit me right away that all these people had just given it to me.”
“I was just completely floored, I couldn’t even believe it. It was so incredible to think of these people that I never even met and they wanted to bring joy to me. That was so awesome.”
As we sat on her living room floor and sorted out the yarn, I was floored for the second time that day. Catherine had some ideas for private projects she would work on with the donations – but she was already plotting how she would give back herself.
Catherine relies on total parenteral nutrition (TPN) to survive, and has a surgically implanted central line that bypasses her sluggish digestive system and delivers nutrients directly to the blood.
Vancouver’s St. Paul’s Hospital runs the home TPN training program where Catherine learned how to use the tools to keep herself alive, and she regularly donates blankets, and baby hats to their gift shop.
“I feel this connection to them, they keep me alive so I like to donate to their gift shop,” she said, smiling.
In a world where terrorism exists, election results rock nations, and the media is flooded with stories of death, tragedy, and pain, witnessing the kindness and generosity of strangers that donated to Catherine was like a breath of fresh air.
The communities of Metro Vancouver reminded me that people still really do care about the happiness of others, even if they have never met them.
“I’m never really surprised when people do nice things because I’ve been lucky to witness so much kindness over the years,” Catherine told me. “But usually it’s from people you know or encounter in the hospital - it’s never been from complete strangers before.
“These people never met me in person, they never talked to me, but the story you wrote moved people to do such cool things. Not only did it make me really happy, it made all the people who loved me really happy. It was very awesome.”