The organizers of a project inspired by a Canadian soldier who died in the Balkans two decades ago are appealing to knitters across the country, urging them to put their needles together for Syrian refugees.

The Izzy Doll project is asking for as many dolls as it can get.

The project started in the early 1990s, when Master Cpl. Mark “Izzy” Isfeld was clearing landmines in Croatia.

One day, he saw what appeared to be a young child lying dead on a pile of rubble. Upon closer inspection, he realized it was only a doll.

Still, the idea that a little child had fled so quickly and left behind their stuffed friend saddened the soldier, and he told his mother.

That gave Carol Isfeld an idea. She crocheted a handful of six-inch (15-cm) dolls -- small enough to fit in a soldier’s pockets. Some had blue peace-keeper berets; others had pigtails. She mailed them to her son.

Isfeld gave the dolls out quickly, and soon he needed more.

“Isfeld became known as the soldier who received little handshakes and captured little hearts and made the children smile,” Shirley O’Connell told CTV News Channel on Thursday.

After Isfeld died on June 21, 1994, volunteers took up the cause.

O’Connell is one of them. Her latest effort is focused on getting the comforting dolls into the hands of all the Syrian refugee children coming to Canada over the next few months.

O’Connell said she’s helped distribute more than 81,000 dolls already, including to children left homeless after this spring’s deadly earthquake in Nepal.

The dolls have also been handed out after natural disasters in Haiti and the Philippines, and by the Canadian Forces in Afghanistan. The charity Icross has given out more than 1.3 million.

O’Connell said she isn’t sure how many dolls will be needed for the Syrians coming to Canada, but any left over are sure to find a home.

Instructions on making the dolls and sending them to the Izzy Doll project can be found online here.