LEOMINSTER — Warmer Winters junior board members recently finalized plans for new outreach events and distribution initiatives for the organization, which has been providing handknit winter accessories including hats, mittens, sweaters and scarves for over 15 years to those in the community in need.
“We’ve got a lot of things in the planning stages, and we are ready to hit the ground running, safely,” said longtime Warmer Winters President David Roth of the Leominster-based nonprofit organization.
So far this season it has distributed a plethora of items, including at the Coats for a Cause Worcester County Sheriff’s Office event at the Leominster Fire Department just before the holidays in December and at the Coats4Vets distribution in January at Fitchburg City Hall.
“It’s all for people in need, anything we can do to help people,” Roth said. “Especially with the pandemic, people can’t find things in the stores and there are shortages.”
He said they are especially grateful for the multitude of volunteers who give of their time and energy to help with their mission of creating warm winter items made with love and who engage members of the community of all ages by teaching them to knit.
“We love that people want to give back and help people be warm,” Roth said.
He gives a lot of credit to Warmer Winters Operations Manager Roberta Steward, who has not only been instrumental in recruiting new volunteers and helping to run the organization but also creating handknit items herself, which Roth said has been a therapy for her hands during recovery from an accident.
“She has assumed a lot of the duties from our founder Judy Gentry and the day-to-day operations,” Roth said of Steward. “She is the perfect example of people who help us. She does all the distributions, organizes the inventory. She has said Warmer Winters saved her life and helped her get active again.”
One family in particular has been especially helpful this season during their months-long stopover in Massachusetts to visit family while on an epic cross-country journey, the Wilburs from Texas — dad Mike, a Fitchburg native, mom Kristi, and their kids, Finley, 10, and Griffin, 8, who are being homeschooled and are now junior board members.
“Knitting is medicine,” Finley said of the skill she and her family learned to do so they could help make items for Warmer Winters.
She said they recruited her grandmother as well, who has knitted 70 hats since November at a pace of one or two a day.
“It’s cross generational, with grandmothers teaching their grandkids and vice versa,” Roth said. “We are happy to be able to throw them into the mix to help people.”
Kristi Wilbur said it was “pure luck” that they stumbled upon Warmer Winters items around the holidays at The Gardener’s Spot in Leominster, a longtime loyal community partner and supporter, and they were moved to join the charitable cause. Handknit items are available at The Gardener’s Spot for customers, including recipients of the annual Trees for Soldiers program.
“We told them what we do, and they said they are into supporting the community and teaching their kids community involvement and wanted to get involved,” Roth said of the Wilburs. “They are amazing crafters for us and wonderful people. It’s great how so many parents are looking for something positive for their kids to get involved with and leadership and learning the love of giving back.”
Warmer Winters hosts two meetings monthly, board meetings the third Tuesday of each month from 6:30 to 8 p.m. and Knit Knites meetings are held the third Friday of every month from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., with the next ones on Feb. 15 and Feb. 18, respectively. Both are currently being held at the First Parish Unitarian Universalist Church of Fitchburg during the colder winter months and are open to the public.
Roth said they welcome anyone who wants to learn more about what they do and that when the weather gets warmer, they will move their meetings back to The Gardener’s Spot.
At Knit Knites people of all ages can learn to knit and crochet and do it together as a way to uphold the nonprofit organization’s key tenements — to enhance quality of life by gifting newly made, hand-knit warmth to neighbors in need; to engage members of the community of all ages by teaching them to knit; and to do good while having fun.
“There’s always complimentary pizza and snacks and it’s a fun community get-together,” Roth said.
He said they are working to build attendance at meetings back up, which was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
“That’s one thing we have lost over the pandemic,” Roth said. “We are getting back together now and promoting what we do.”
Nearly two dozen people of all ages attended the Jan. 21 Knit Knites meeting, where the tables were spaced out.
“A young lady who first joined us a few months ago is now teaching others how to knit,” Roth proudly said.
Junior board members range in age from eight to 17 and when they turn 18, they are considered regular board members. The organization is 100% volunteer-run with over 100 volunteers currently on the roster, including over a dozen junior board members.
“I like seeing the future leaders,” Roth said. “It’s amazing what these kids can do.”
A Carnations and Cookies event that is open to the community is scheduled for May 3 from 6 to 8 p.m., tentatively at The Gardner’s Spot depending on the weather. Attendees can make carnations out of tissue paper for Mother’s Day and enjoy cookies made by junior board members.
“We are hoping to introduce people to what we do and recruit volunteers at this free family event, an open house for Warmer Winters,” Roth said. “There will be information on the junior and regular board and how it teaches them community leadership.”
Junior board members will bake cookies with Francisco Oliveira from Oliver’s Cafe in Leominster for the event.
“It’s really cool when a 12-year-old has an idea like this,” Roth said of the inspiration behind it, adding that the junior board members “will be involved.”
He said they are planning a big community appreciation dinner on May 17 on the patio at The Gardner’s Spot, “honoring our volunteers and essential people in the community including front line workers, fire, police, food banks, and more,” where junior and regular board members will be sporting Warmer Winters T-shirts designed by junior board members.
Roth said that besides the public they will invite state Sen. John Cronin, D-Lunenburg, Reps. Natalie Higgins, D-Leominster, and Michael Kushmerek, D-Fitchburg, Fitchburg Fire Chief Ernest Martineau and others who have been staunch supporters of Warmer Winter over the years to join them.
“We want to share with the community that we care,” Roth said.
When it comes to the future of Warmer Winters and carrying on the legacy of giving bac, he said they are thrilled to have more families and youth joining them.
“It is the unique thing we do,” Roth said. “How do get kids involved in a nonprofit? You ask them, you trust them, and you get them involved in leadership. They help us make decisions and run a better organization. We keep our vibrancy because we get this new blood of excited kids and parents, which keeps us organically growing.”
All monetary donations made to Warmer Winters goes toward buying yarn and other supplies, and Roth said they are happy to provide items to other organizations that help people.
“If any nonprofit organizations, shelters, etc., have people who are cold, we would be happy to provide mittens, hats, scarves, and more,” he said. “That’s the only reason we exist — to help neighbors in need.”