Sock monkeys brighten children's dark days

Sayaka Iida

WWU Communications and Marketing intern

June 12, 2015

The first time June Fraser Thistle brought her handmade sock monkeys to Child Protective Services, workers offered one to a crying girl.

“I remember I was holding my breath,” Fraser Thistle said. “I wondered if it was going to work.”

But when the child received the monkey, she stopped crying. And at that moment, Fraser Thistle had all the reason she needed to keep making the monkeys for kids in distress.

One simple pair of socks -- an item we use every day -- turns into a monkey doll. One pair of socks makes a child smile.

June Fraser Thistle, a program support supervisor in University Residences at Western Washington University, started the project three years ago. She got the idea after attending an information session put on by Western Libraries Learning Commons and Phi Kappa Phi who were looking to develop a sustainable program through the WWU Green Energy Fee Program.

Soon, Fraser Thistle and friends were holding workshops to make monkeys. They made about nine monkeys right away to use as models to knit clothing for. The nine monkeys turned into 43 by spring of 2014. They also make plenty of clothes, and with her current bunch, each monkey has a backpack with pajamas.

Fraser Thistle has held some workshops at her house. About 10 people always participate and enjoy knitting at her house. She said they sometimes stay up late. The workshops usually start on Friday and go through the weekend, with the participants watching movies or having a pajama party. Fraser Thistle also has used the conference room within University Residences to continue making monkeys with volunteers during lunchtime.

Current and former students, current and former WWU staff, alumni and their parents, and community members join in making monkeys at Fraser Thistle's house. Whatcom Community College students also come and help out, too, she said.

“It is a mixture of all different kinds of people and different skills,” said Fraser Thistle. “It has been a really great way to connect to everyone.”

Fraser Thistle and many of the volunteers had never used a sewing machine before participating in the project, she said. Although making a monkey takes about eight hours from start to finish, they are currently working on 52 more monkeys to add to the 43 already presented to Child Protective Services. “An even 100 monkeys sounds so good,” she said.

“It started out with sustainability, and we certainly have that in mind with their recycled attire and backpacks, but really what it is about is helping kids in need,” Fraser Thistle said. 

Children who have to be removed from their homes for various reasons often are placed in emergency homes and eventually into foster care. Fraser Thistle thinks Child Protective Services is the perfect place for sock monkeys to find their homes.

Fraser Thistle has also volunteered with Domestic Violence & Sexual Assault Services. Once, she gave a monkey to a child in the hospital at PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center who was suspected of being sexually assaulted. The sock monkey was a huge hit.

“She was delighted, and so were her parents,” Fraser Thistle said.

Fraser Thistle wants to continue this project, as the need has been proven. Fraser Thistle said she would love to see a student group take over and coordinate this project. Fraser Thistle could act as an adviser for this group rather than coordinating the efforts.

“All of us are waiting to see a monkey walking down the street in Bellingham in the arms of a little one,” Fraser Thistle said. “When this happens, we will know our monkeys are doing the job we lovingly created them for.”