Local Carver Seeks To Do Good With Wooden ‘Comfort Birds’
By DAN SULLIVAN
Jacquie Donahoe spends her summers at her family’s camp on Canadarago Lake. She happens to be an accomplished woodcarver and is part of a network of carvers who seek to ease suffering and pain around the world through their products. Her interest and passion for woodcarving came from her experiences riding the carousel at the now defunct Canadarago Lake Park.
“I would try to ride the carousel as often as I possibly could, and my dream was to carve a carousel horse one day,” Donahoe recalled.
Since 2010, Donahoe—who resides in Ballston Spa—has been part of a loose confederation that carves “comfort birds.” Based on a 1982 design created by the late Frank Faust, these birds were originally made to be gifted to patients undergoing painful and stressful medical treatments, such as chemotherapy and dialysis. The birds are soothing to hold and function like a worry stone.
Along the way, the group has expanded the range of recipients. Donahoe herself has contributed birds to a number of Capital District charities, including STRIDE Adaptive Sports, Wounded Warriors, and a variety of hospice, nursing, and palliative care facilities, as well as individuals struggling with grieving. However, the greatest opportunity to help those in need was to come out of a national tragedy.
On May 24, 2022, a gunman walked into an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas and took the lives of 19 students and two teachers, while wounding 21 others. Donahoe, who in her professional career was an occupational therapist working with elementary grades, was deeply affected.
“I was at first heartbroken, then angry, then overwhelmed by feelings of despair and helplessness. But then I decided to send comfort birds to Uvalde,” she said.
Donahoe reached out to her friends in the carving community, almost all of whom bought into the idea. Soon, seven teams of carvers formed: two from Canada, four from New York and one from Pennsylvania. Two more groups assembled after reading of the project in “Woodcarving Illustrated,” the bible of woodcarvers: one in Georgia and a fifth in New York.
Together, over the next five months, the teams—consisting of folks aged 8 to 80—finished 438 comfort items (birds, turtles crosses and hearts) and sent them to Uvalde. They were given to bereaved individuals, survivors and first responders, all of whom deeply appreciated the gifts.
Working on this project helped give Donohoe inspiration to include a wider demographic of those in need of comfort. Since Uvalde, she has gifted birds to mothers of students at Goldstar, a school for autistic children, and to cancer survivors. She has also decided to offer her birds for sale at the Richfield Springs Food Co-op.
“I want the proceeds from the sales of the birds to benefit The Co-op, as well as to provide funds to buy materials to further my work,” she said.
Having worked with wood from over 400 species of trees and shrubs, the funds come in handy.
For those who would like to learn more about her efforts, Donahoe is a daily visitor to the co-op in the summer months.