MINNEAPOLIS - Something beautiful has unraveled inside the old fire station turned yarn shop at 35th and Chicago in Minneapolis.
"Rarely, does somebody knit only one hat and quit. It seems like they keep on going," said Barbara Melom, of Minneapolis, easily looping wool between her fingers, knowing that her hands can turn a cold reality into a gift of warmth.
Melom launched Hats for the Homeless with the belief giving is what creates the fabric of a community. It's what she did four years ago when serving a meal at a local homeless shelter Christmas Eve.
"Life has been good to me. I just decided I'd like to give back to people. Winters are cold in Minnesota. My thoughts are everybody needs a hat. Hats are simple and easy to make," she said.
What she didn't realize, her actions back in 2009 would launch a movement. Melom called on her Minnesota knitting circles, but soon people across the country wove together more generosity that just one could wear. She hoped for 50 hand knit hats in the first year, but people knitted forward more than 300 hats. The project has grown every year, and knitters from as far as Hawaii sent more than 1,200 hats last year.
"It's amazing the generosity and kindness and warmth in the hearts of knitters. When they hear about a project where they can help, they pick up their needles and they start to knit," said Melom.
Hats for the Homeless knitters often gather at StevenBe's Yarn Garage. Owner Steven Berg spent decades in fashion, but his career mindset changed when Barbara asked him to design for those unseen.
"I don't know if I had any feeling after all those years of the hard-edged world, and she kind of opened that horizon for me and I was like, well, let me help out," said Berg.
This Christmas, hats will be delivered to shelters across the Twin Cities, from Mary's Place to Simpson Shelter and People Serving People, on a cold day, a community connected by a needle and a heart.
"It's heartwarming. It gives you goose bumps, and I break down and have tears every time," said Berg.
Hats for the Homeless still needs charity knitters to help out this year. Melom says she has received 600 hats so far this year, but needs twice that amount by Christmas.
"We are giving things that are knit by people in the community who care, and this touches the heart of many homeless people. They sometimes feel they are alone. When you give the gift of warmth like a hat, they are really touched," she said.
If you'd like to help, Melom says you can find instructions and knitting patterns at hats4thehomeless.blogspot.com. Or if you don't knit, you can buy a hat to donate.