Warm Thoughts Now Mean Warm Hands Come Winter
(Wendy Shepherd, Director of Mittens in Detroit, April 3, 2021)
Detroit, Pontiac, MI – Spring has sprung, the trees are starting to bud and flower, and daffodils are popping up towards the sunshine. Winter coats, boots, and gloves are finally getting put away. While you may be busy trying to forget the winter cold, Mittens for Detroit is already gearing up for next winter. Mittens – now? You bet.
Mittens for Detroit is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit founded in 2010 as a small community initiative. What started with about a dozen private and public Collection Partners and the same number of Distribution Partners has grown into a well-respected and vital organization. Mittens for Detroit (MFD) has a simple and focused mission – to collect, purchase and distribute new mittens and gloves for kids, teens, and adults in need in Detroit and nearby under-served cities. That’s it. We work year-round to make sure that we have plenty of new pairs ready for hands each fall when we start distributing them. You’ve likely seen our red and white collection boxes at Starbucks, Weight Watchers, or your workplace over the years.
We connect those who can and want to give, with those who are in need – acting as a conduit to efficiently and effectively get as many hands covered in new, warm pairs as possible every year. The first collection brought in nearly 9,000 pairs, and to date more than a quarter of a million pairs have been distributed. Even during the pandemic, MFD was able to get 16,000 pairs on hands, due to the generosity of donors, as the annual public collection (from October-January) had to be cancelled. We have never purchased as many pairs as we did last winter!
Why mittens? It seems like a small thing when there are so many needs in our community. Winters are cold in Metro Detroit, and an average 32,000 pairs of hands are warmer every winter because of the kindness and caring in the community. There are now 100 Collection Partners and 85 Distribution Partners, including schools, agencies, veterans’ groups, shelters, medical facilities, and the like. MFD’s Distribution Partners are in Detroit, Hamtramck, Highland Park, and Dearborn. Most pairs are store-bought, with about 1,500 knit, crochet, or sewn donated pairs (from all over the country!).
One of our favorite programs is our distribution to schools. For eight years, every Hamtramck Public Schools student has received pairs. We have grown from serving three to now fourteen Dearborn Public Schools (where we supply pairs to the refugee children, as well as low-income students. We are very excited to be adding all of the Pontiac Public Schools kids this year, as we expand our reach. Think of all of the snowmen that will be built this winter with kids wearing new mittens!
In early Winter 2020, while delivering the pairs to a school in Hamtramck, a 5th grader on the playground saw the boxes being carried in and squealed, “WE ARE GETTING OUR GLOVES TODAY!!!!” She likely has received a pair every year at her school – we have become part of the school experience for thousands of kids.
But it’s the more than just kids who benefit from the community’s kindness. Other Distribution Partner organizations include Alternatives for Girls, COTS, Covenant House, Crossroads, Gleaners, Heart 2 Hart Detroit, Latino Family Services, Michigan Veterans Foundation, No Veteran Left Behind, Pope Francis Center, and Ruth Ellis Center are some of organizations that serve adults, such as parents, senior citizens, and essential workers.
One incredibly fun part of our work is our very hands-on volunteer opportunity called The Big Sort from September through March. The thousands of pairs are brought to our office in downtown Detroit, where people are able to come with their work teams, community groups, or social groups to count, sort, and box up these pairs. This is an annual event for many volunteer groups who have a blast as they see firsthand how simple it is to help others, often bringing in collections that they held with their group.
MFD works because of its simplicity. People see a need, they pitch in, and the need is met almost immediately. As the Executive Director since 2013, I have seen the astonishing growth of MFD from that small initiative into something big in scope, if not in our size! I am fortunate to not only meet so many volunteers every year, but I also have the opportunity to see firsthand the difference such a small item makes in the lives of others. When a person receives a beautiful new, warm pair of gloves and slips their hands into them, their face lights up with a smile. They know that they are important. That someone cares about them. The gift of the pair of mittens or gloves brings a warmth that goes far beyond that moment.
For more information, including how to donate, visit www.MittensForDetroit.org. If you are interested in getting involved, please drop us a line at Info@MittensForDetroit.org. You can also follow us on Facebook.