Fact: Minnesota is cold in the winter (and the fall and the spring).
Several years ago one of our Youth Services Librarians shared a story with us about a first grade class that had walked over from the nearby Title 1 elementary school. During the class visit, the librarian told the class a story that included props of a clothes line with several pairs of mittens pinned to it. While the rest of the class was browsing for books after the storytime, a child pulled her aside and asked quietly if he could take a pair of those prop mittens home to his sister because she didn’t have any. The librarian made sure that he left with mittens for his whole family.
Inspired by this and similar stories from our community, we launched a program called Warm Up Rochester in November 2016. The program encourages the community to make or buy scarves, hats, gloves, and mittens, which we then distribute to those in need at the library. Our first season, we estimate that we gave out approximately 200 items. Last year, our third season, we gave out 1,078 items. And now in our fourth season we have already collected and started distributing 1,243 items.
We collect donated items at each of our public service desks and we have many people in the community who knit or crochet year-round in order to create a supply of items. We collect and distribute items in all sizes from babies to adults. Once collected, we count the items, tag them with a Warm Up Rochester tag, and sort them by size into bins. We have three distribution points in the library: in Youth Services, in our main lobby, and upstairs in Reference Services. People do not have to check in with anyone, they can just take what they need.
We start offering items as soon as the temperature is steadily hitting 40 degrees or below in the fall and we stop offering items when the temperature is consistently above 40 (we promise, that feels HOT in the spring). We seem well on track to collect and distribute over 2,000 items this season as we still have at least 3 months of cold left.
In addition to collecting and distributing items, Youth Services offers programs teaching people to make items. We welcomed a brilliant knitter to the Youth Services team last year and she has been running a weekly inter-generational Stitch-In program teaching people to knit and providing needles and yarn for the creation of Warm Up items. Last week I launched a program to teach people how to make simple fleece hats. I’ve been making these super easy and fast fleece hats at home with my kids and husband for years; they are a great way to get the whole family involved.
If you would like to start a similar program, leave a comment and I would be happy to share templates for posters (asking for donations/advertising Stitch Ins/identifying distribution points) or tags (for the items) and the simple fleece hat pattern.