After a number of oil spills off Australia’s southeastern coast left penguins in danger, the Penguin Foundation launched its Knits for Nature program and asked volunteers to knit sweaters for penguins.
Oil separates and mats penguins’ feathers, letting cold water seep in and making them cold, distressed and less effective hunters. Sweaters help warm the birds — and prevent them from preening themselves and swallowing the oil — before they’re washed by wildlife rehabilitation workers.
One of the knitters to answer the call for penguin-friendly sweaters was 109-year-old Alfred “Alfie” Date, Australia’s oldest person.
Date has over 80 years of knitting experience. He quickly jumped on board after nurses in his long-term care home asked him if he’d life to help out a few penguins.
"The girls who used to work for me, they’ll tell you I’m a sucker. I can’t say no," Date told 9stories.
"It’s a good way of getting along in life. You make friends all the time but you don’t make a fool of yourself either."
The nurses left Date some heavy wool and he immediately got to work.
While the foundation knew that Date was their “most senior little penguin jumper knitter,” until recently, its members were unaware that he was the oldest living Australian.
"We knew he was over 100 years old, but had no idea he was declared the oldest person in Australia," Danene Jones, who works at the foundation, told 9stories.
"It’s amazing and we feel quite privileged to have him dedicating his time and effort to the Penguin Foundation."
The Penguin Foundation had such a good response to their request for sweaters that it’s no longer asking for contributions, claiming to be adequately stockpiled in anticipation of future oil spills.
"We do not need any further jumpers," the foundation’s Lauren Jones said.
"We are incredibly grateful for the donations we have received and the time and effort creating them."
Date told 9stories that he taught three generations of his family to knit and continues to knit scarves for friends and beanies for premature babies.