Tuesday, 26 May 2020


Operation Cover Up a “tremendous journey”

The Whitianga knitters for Operation Cover Up, a mission outreach knitting blankets and clothing for the people of Eastern Europe, were treated to some startling stories last week, when they welcomed the woman who first got New Zealand knitting for the outreach.

Nearly 30 years ago, Liz Clarke from Taupo contracted Paraquat poisoning and became very ill.

“I was feeling very low, with no energy but I wanted to do something useful,” Liz says. “Through “Missions Without Borders,’ I sponsored a little boy in a Moldovian orphanage and learned that the children were in such need, they didn’t even have blankets in the freezing Eastern European climate.

“It was so depressing thinking about all the things I wasn’t able to do and I started searching for what I could do. Providing the children in the orphanage with blankets became a priority. The problem was I couldn’t knit, I tried, but it was hopeless.  So I launched an appeal for 67 blankets, one for each child in the orphanage. The result was amazing. That first year, 240 blankets were knitted in Taupo - enough for two orphanages. We also stood outside the supermarkets and raised money. We raised enough to buy a washing machine for the orphanage as well.” 

Liz continued to raise awareness all around New Zealand, by printing brochures and fundraising. Missions Without Borders adopted the cause and the name “Operation Cover Up” was born.

These days more than 100 volunteer coordinators help to organise thousands of knitters. To date, New Zealand has supplied 135,000 blankets to the people of Eastern Europe. Liz says the prolific knitters of the Coromandel are as generous as any in the country. “It costs $16,000 to send each 12-metre shipping container full of knitted blankets and clothing and we send two of those every year,” she says. “I had no idea what I was starting. It has been a tremendous journey.” 

Liz is never free from the debilitating effects of the Paraquat poisoning, but her enthusiasm never flags and over the years she has travelled all around New Zealand, inspiring everyone with her sense of humour.  “Our knitters have a great time together and that fills a need for many people,” says Liz.

Liz made a trip to Eastern Europe, to the Ukraine, just once and found it very disturbing. “It was heart-rending,” she says. “The look on the children’s faces moved us to tears.  Our interpreter told us, ‘They will never forget you, because you cared.’”

The Whitianga knitters for Operation Cover up meet on the last Wednesday of every month at Whitianga Social Services in Cook Drive.

Pictured: - Liz Clarke (left), the founder of Operation Cover Up, with Brenda Duncan, the Whitianga coordinator of the mission outreach, during Liz’s visit to Whitianga on Wednesday last week.


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