Lutherans in the Twin Cities, Uncategorized

Offering warmth to the most vulnerable

At this time of year, many folks may be thinking about summer clothing or beachwear that will help them keep cool. Another group is thinking about thousands of hats and mittens they’ll need to keep children warm next winter. The latter group is named Hats & Mittens.

From a business plan scribbled on the back of an envelope in 1996 and a first-year budget of $15-25,000, Hats & Mittens has grown to a $450,000 annual budget. Founder Rebecca Jorgenson Sundquist says of the organization, “Our goal is to own the mitten market to keep kids warm.” To that end, the goal for the coming year is to collect more than 50,000 hats and pairs of mittens.

Rebecca Sundquist, founder of Hats & Mittens, shows off several pairs of mittens that will be distributed to those who are in need of warm clothing.

Rebecca Sundquist, founder of Hats & Mittens, shows off several pairs of mittens that will be distributed to those who are in need of warm clothing.

Funds for the project are raised in a number of ways. A network of friends gathers monthly throughout the year and also holds an annual winter gala on December 30 to celebrate the year’s accomplishments. Proceeds from the gala, silent auction, and live auction go to a selected organization. This is in addition to the donations of actual hats and mittens through the organization. Kaleidoscope Place, a children’s outreach of Messiah and Our Savior’s Lutheran congregations (ELCA) in Minneapolis, was the recipient of the December 2009 gala proceeds.

Requests from organizations for hats and mittens often number in the thousands. The “Sponsor a Family” program, provided by Lutheran Social Service and Catholic Charities, requested 9,000 hats and pairs of mittens. CommonBond has requested 5,000. Greater Twin Cities United Way helps connect groups needing hats and mittens with Hats & Mittens.

“Our goal is to own the mitten market to keep kids warm.”

Willing volunteers make much of it happen. Companies involved include: Wear a Knit, a Cloquet, Minnesota, firm that provides hats and mittens; Steiner Development Inc. provides warehouse space; Liberty Carton provides cardboard boxes; Hermantown (Minnesota) Lumber uses its truck fleet to pick up and deliver hats and mittens to their destinations, and FedEx Office also delivers hats and mittens.

The growth of Hats and Mittens has come in a variety of ways. sometimes very personally. Founder Rebecca Sundquist found a purse in downtown Minneapolis. She called the cell phone number found inside. The owner, Cindy, a mother of three, was so grateful for its return that she and her daughters began to collect hats and mittens at their schools. Then, they put out a box on their front step at home and neighbors generously filled it. So the program grew.

A project for congregations

Although Hats & Mittens is non-denominational, it has strong Lutheran ties. In addition to Sundquist, board members include Jackie Casey, David Distad, Karen Kelly, Judith Mondloch, Helen Stidger, Brad Searl, Scott Searl, and Jerry Sundquist. Rebecca Sundquist says that board members “have a sense of service,” which drives the organization.

Hats & Mittens has selected West Seventh Community Center as the recipient of proceeds from its December 2010 Winter Gala. Other recipients dating back to 1996 are Kaleidoscope Place, Girls in Action, LifeSource, Perspectives Kid’s Café, River Valley Riders, WAND, A Better Chance–Eden Prairie, LSS Camp Knutson, Family Support Network, Best Friends, SA\VE, Deva House, LSS SafeHouse, and TreeHouse–Deaf Students.

Sundquist believes Hats & Mittens would make a good project for church groups including youth groups, families, book clubs, work teams, and the like. “It’s a meaningful way to develop deep friendships. And there’s always a need for groups to be collecting hats and mittens.”

Hats & Mittens’ Web site indicates that a $1 contribution buys a hat and pair of mittens; so contributions of all sizes can help provide warmth for kids in need. Those interested in knowing more about the organization may check the Web site: Sundquist can be contacted through e-mail at rebecca@jor or by phone at 952/221-3400.