Warm heads and hearts for the holidays

Close to 400 women and children in the Rogue Valley will be warmer this holiday season because nearly as many locals took up knitting needles to help shatter the cold shoulder and cold winter.

Refusing to overlook the sometimes overlooked, Web*sters, a knitting store in Ashland's Plaza, coordinated a hat-knitting drive for victims of sexual abuse and domestic violence who are being cared for by Community Works, a local nonprofit.

"We've got about a million hats," Lura Mangelsdorf, a Web*sters sales clerk, said Friday. "They've been coming in hot and heavy the last couple of weeks. We have an overwhelming number of hats this year — it's the most hats we've ever gotten."

Web*sters had expected to receive a fourth as many hats by the Dec. 1 deadline, Karen Cipes, the organizer of the program, said in an October Tidings article announcing the program.

According to counts this morning, the store had collected 327 hats and was awaiting one more late delivery of at least 60 hats, said Wendi Moseman, Web*sters Web site manager.

In addition to the hats, the store collected six heavy boxes of canned food, because knitters were asked to bring in a donation for the Ashland Emergency Food Bank when they dropped off their completed hat.

Since 1996 Cipes has coordinated a holiday donation project, involving knitting bears or hats.

But this year, about 300 more than usual decided to get out their knitting needles and make a hat — or several — for those who may not have one.

The women and children at Dunn House Shelter and those who participate in Community Works programs have often had to flee their homes quickly and leave most of their possessions behind, Cipes explained.

About 120 of the hats will be given away at the Community Works holiday party this month and the rest will be distributed throughout the winter to some of the 1,500 people the nonprofit serves, said Anna D'Amato, director of victim services at Community Works.

"I think it's great that the community stepped up and participated to make this happen," she said.

"The women and children are very appreciative, especially when they know someone's made it just for them. It really is an endearing feeling for them, that people helped do that," D'Amato added.

Web*sters supplied about 150 hat-making kits, but quickly ran out of them, said Cipes.

"We had to start asking people to donate their own yarn and people were really cool about that," she said.

Some locals knit a handful of hats, which take about five hours to make, and a few community groups decided to knit together.

"It looked like there were some people who just knit hats like crazy and donated several, so that was cool," Cipes said.

Cynthia LaMar, a leadership teacher at Hedrick Middle School in Medford, used the hat drive as a way to teach 150 of her students how to crochet and how to give back.

About half of the students crocheted hats — the school didn't have enough supplies to allow students to knit — and half made pompoms for the tops of the hats.

"I think it helped shift their focus a little bit," LaMar said of her students, "that, wow this is happening in our own community, and showed them that we can maybe help someone feel a little bit better in a difficult time."

Staff writer Hannah Guzik can be reached at 482-3456 ext. 226.

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