Riley Henkel, left, and Ben Slaney are some of the men at Phoenix Society who have started knitting toques this year. They learned from Nelson Medonca, who was taught in jail. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

‘The loom of life’: Men in recovery in Surrey make toques for homeless, babies

Nelson Mendonca says he learned to knit in jail, continued in recovery because he was ‘a bit anxious’

Whenever someone new comes to Phoenix Society, Nelson Mendonca tells them they’re going to end up knitting toques.

Mendonca started knitting at Phoenix about four months ago. He did a 90-day recovery program, and he’s now about a month into a transitional housing program.

“I learned how to knit these toques in jail,” he explained. “We were making toques for the homeless. I made a few in jail, but it wasn’t really something I was doing a lot. I got here, and I felt super alone and I just wanted to keep my mind busy. I was getting a bit anxious.”


Nelson Mendonca has been teaching people at Phoenix Society how to knit toques. (Photo: Lauren Collins)

He said people at Phoenix started asking him what he was doing, adding that some seemed a little hesitant to try.

“Eventually, one person tried, the next person tried, that person taught another person, that person taught another two people … Before you know it, it was like having a knitting club. Yarn and looms everywhere.”

In the last few months, Mendonca guessed he and the others have made between 200 and 250 toques, which they hope to give to the homeless, babies at the hospital and single mothers. Some have already been given to a women’s recovery house.

“My biggest satisfaction is being able to give a toque to someone, teaching someone how to make a toque and when they give it to their kids or give it to someone,” he said. “With my history, starting with something and not finishing it, is something I was notorious for. But just being able to follow through and finish it.

“It’s the one thing I couldn’t cheat, manipulate, try and cut a corner or try and find a loophole. I had to follow each peg, one at a time, all the way around,” he explained, adding it’s like “the loom of life.”

For Ben Slaney, he found that if his hands are moving, “it helps (him) pay attention better.”

His first two toques were for his parents.

“I was so proud of myself,” Slaney said. “When you first get clean, victories are few and far between, and even just finishing a toque means you did something. You take your victories where you can get them. So for me, it was really helpful starting to get back to doing something.”

Mendonca just said it’s been “toque mania” at Phoenix.

“I didn’t honestly think when I started making toques, it would be this. It’s become a staple around here, almost. Every new guy that comes on the floor, we say, ‘You’re going to end up making a toque whether you like it or not.’”

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READ ALSO: Surrey homeless, recovery counts show need for long-term solutions, Nov. 28

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