“There are a lot of women like us here,” Toni Roberts said to me the first time we spoke. By “like us,” I understood her to mean: older, single, self-supporting gringas who’ve come to San Miguel de Allende to retire — drawn to the city’s beauty, culture, climate, and Mexico’s affordability — and who choose to give back in some way to the community. “San Miguel has a way of attracting strong, independent women,” she added.
I’ve only been in San Miguel one month, but already I’ve met several such remarkable women, whom I hope to feature in future WOW Factor blog posts. Toni has agreed to be the first in my ongoing series.
Toni Roberts’ project is called Hats and Scarves for Campo Kids, which she has spearheaded for the past five years. As the name implies, Toni’s group makes hand-knit and hand–crocheted colorful matching winter hats and scarves for kids living on the outskirts of San Miguel. “The poorest of the poor,” Toni says.
The group of volunteer knitters and crocheters, who originally went by the name of “Hookers” (but decided to drop that moniker after a kindergarten teacher turned pale when she heard it, Toni said), meets every Sunday afternoon from three to five, year-round. But the hats and scarves are distributed to school-age children in the campo (countryside) during the colder winter months of November through early March.
“It can get really cold here in the morning,” Toni told me. “We want the kids to be protected from the cold when they walk long distances, often before sunrise, to get to school.” For this reason, the specifications for making the sets are that the hat must cover the child’s ears, and the matching scarf must be five inches wide (to cover nose and mouth) by five feet long (to cross over the chest). One of her underlying motivations, Toni admitted, is that she likes the idea of “perhaps keeping the next Benito Juarez from catching pneumonia.”
I joined a recent gathering of hats-and-scarves makers at a large, round table in the outdoor patio of Starbucks near the Parroquia church in San Miguel’s el Centro, where I lent my amateurish crocheting skills to the mix. There were piles of colorful skeins of yarn on the table – all donated, Toni said, along with the crochet hooks and knitting needles – and busy hands all around. “Some women use their own yarn, but a good deal of it is purchased at San Miguel’s Tuesday Market and thereby helps the local economy,” she said.
Over 100 women have donated their time and talents to contribute to this effort over the years, Toni told me, and the gathering gets largest in January and February, when San Miguel’s “snow birds” arrive. “There’s a big contingent of French-Canadians,” she said, “and they really know how to knit!”
Toni, a native New Yorker, who has three grown sons and five grandchildren, told me she comes from a political activist background. She’s visited and done “solidarity work” in support of Nicaragua, Cuba, and Palestine. But for the past ten years, since she took early retirement at the age of 62, San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, has been her home. Her main thrust now is the important work of keeping little kids warm.
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(For more information regarding Hats and Scarves for Campo Kids, contact Toni at: Roberts_Toni@yahoo.com or visit her Facebook page: Hatsandscarves Campokids.)