By Debby Woodin
JOPLIN, Mo. —
They say elephants never forget.
Neither does 9-year-old Cee Cee Creech, of Campbellsville, Ky., who has spent the past 14 months knitting little elephants to raise big money and awareness for Joplin’s tornado recovery.
“It’s really fun; it’s really not like work,” Cee Cee said by telephone from her Kentucky home of her project, which she calls “Elephants Remember Joplin.”
Cee Cee’s elephants and little critters made by other knitters who jumped in to help her have raised more than $10,000 for Homes of Hope, a home rebuilding organization.
She has a direct trunkline, so to speak, to people like Ty Pennington, the former host of “Extreme Makeover: Home Edition,” who occasionally plugs Cee Cee on his Facebook page to promote her projects for Joplin.
Last week at the Stitches Midwest knitting convention in Schaumburg, Ill., 78 people paid $25 for a kit of materials to make elephants. Cee Cee and her guest, crochet designer Drew Emborsky — a celebrity in the knitting world who uses the nickname “The Crochet Dude” — taught the class.
The money from the kits, along with $1,600 raised at an auction of the elephants at the convention, all went to Homes of Hope.
“I had never heard of Joplin, Mo., before the tornado happened,” said Cee Cee’s mother, Belinda Creech. “We didn’t know anybody there, and I had never been there.”
The night of the May 22, 2011, tornado, they heard a news report about the EF-5 storm that had crushed a third of the city.
The next day, Creech and her daughter were listening to a report on National Public Radio about the devastation when Cee Cee said, “Mommy, I just need to do something to help them.”
Creech has always knitted, and she had taught Cee Cee at age 4 to make simple things. Cee Cee had seen her mom knit little elephants to give to others or to donate to fundraisers. They decided that Cee Cee could knit elephants for Joplin and offer them via Facebook in exchange for a donation to the American Red Cross for Joplin’s benefit.
“I thought, ‘We’ll put it out there on Facebook, she’ll raise a couple of hundred dollars, and it will have helped. She will have owned one of her own projects and helped,’” and that would be the end, Creech said.
Not so. Then came the “elephant-a-thon,” as Creech calls it.
Cee Cee was so encouraged by her first effort that she offered to make as many elephants in a month as she could in exchange for Red Cross donations. She made elephants day and night. “She would fall asleep knitting them,” her mother said. “She took her knitting with her to restaurants when we went out to eat.
“She would take breaks and do kid things, ride her bike and play. But she knitted,” day after day, telling people to make donations until she raised $3,400 for Red Cross assistance to Joplin.
A Joplin motel manager found out about Cee Cee’s efforts, and invited her and her mother to stay at the motel for free so that Cee Cee could see the city she was helping. She visited Joplin a month and a day after the tornado.
“It was pretty much overwhelming,” Cee Cee said of seeing the damage.
Creech thought that since Cee Cee had raised so much money and had seen Joplin, her elephant walk would be over.
Charlie Brown of Homes of Hope met Creech through Facebook and was sent some of Cee Cee’s elephants as a fundraiser for the home-building charity.
He put them in auctions, where they generated bids of hundreds of dollars each, Brown said. One brought $2,000. Cee Cee often names her elephants after someone significant. So there is the “Charlie Brown Elephant,” which has been auctioned four times with the winning bidder returning it each time for another fundraiser.
Brown decided to have a raffle instead “so that people like me have a chance to get one” at a more affordable price. He set up shop this week at McAlister’s Deli in Joplin, where fans were clamoring for them Wednesday afternoon before Brown even got the display set up.
One Joplin boy, Christopher Andrew, 10, was busily filling out entries and stuffing them in cups as Brown set the creations out for display.
“I want the two elephants” that were on display, Christopher said, but he also was leveraging his chances to win by putting raffle tickets in for a purple zombie. Also in demand were a mini beanie hat with eyes and a couple of bunnies with fuzzy white tails.
Christopher talked his mother into buying him 60 entries.
“He wants one of them so bad,” said his mother, Paula Andrew, of the elephants.
Is it worth it? “Absolutely, yes,” she said. “It goes for a good cause.”
Brown said it is the goal of Homes of Hope to build 20 houses for Joplin’s displaced residents with donations like those being generated by Cee Cee. So far, three houses have been built.
Will the raffle end the run of “Elephants Remember Joplin”?
“We’ll just keep going with it,” Cee Cee said.
Added her mother, “We figure as long as people want to keep going and sharing, we’ll just keep knitting elephants.”
After all, Cee Cee says her motto is “Sometimes a little elephant can make a big difference.”
CEE CEE CREECH and members of the Knitting Universe network of enthusiasts have done several projects for Joplin residents. They include knitting Easter bunnies that were sent last spring to the tots at Children’s Haven. She collected toys from other knitters plus 200 handmade hats, scarves and mittens that were sent to Joplin for Christmas.
“IT’S HARD TO TELL the whole story” of what’s happened with the Creeches and their knitting friends as a result of “Elephants Remember Joplin,” said Belinda Creech. “It just turned into this thing.”