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Damiens help provide warmth

One of the Damien Mitten Trees located around Detroit Lakes. This one in Speak Easy is sponsored by the Breakfast Rotary Club. DL NEWSPAPERS/Brian Basham

For nearly 50 years now, the members of Detroit Lakes’ Damien Society have spent every Christmas season helping to warm the hands — and even a few hearts — of local residents in need.

By this time next week, a total of 14 trees will be set up at various locations around town, including: Wells Fargo Bank; First Security Bank; Bremer Bank; Midwest Bank; American National Bank; Bell State Bank & Trust; Central Market; DL Newspapers; Essentia Health-St. Mary’s; Lakeshirts; SpeakEasy (sponsored by DL Breakfast Rotary); DL Community & Cultural Center; Sanford Health; and the local Minnesota Pollution Control Agency office (a new location this year).

“Some of them are up already,” says Damien Society member Nancy Henke, who is handling the publicity for this year’s Mitten Tree project.

The project also got an early boost this past Sunday when the Congregational Church youth group held a live auction of desserts that the members had made themselves.

“The sole purpose of the dessert auction was to raise funds for the Damien mitten trees,” Henke said. “They raised over $1000!

“The young people had a lot of fun exhibiting their creations, parading them around in the church basement where the auction was held, and getting people involved in some lively bidding. The youth will enjoy shopping for articles with the money they raised, and will be decorating the designated Damien trees.”

From now until Thursday, Dec. 19, people in the community can bring in hats, gloves, mittens, scarves and ear muffs to hang on any of the designated mitten trees.

The items can be purchased or hand-knitted, but Henke emphasized that there is a particular need this year for “warm, waterproof mittens — the kind kids can wear to play outside in the snow.”

Though most of the mittens, scarves and caps supplied are for children, adult-sized donations are welcome as well, Henke said.

On Dec. 19, the Damien Society members will collect the items from the trees and bring them to the First Lutheran Church, where they will be sorted and sent out for distribution to the various agencies where they are most needed, Henke said.

Some of the mittens, scarves and other items will be distributed to schools in Detroit Lakes, Audubon, Lake Park, Frazee, White Earth (Circle of Life) and Mahube-Otwa Head Start, as well as at The Refuge Christian Outreach Center, the Becker County Food Pantry, Ecumen-Emmanuel Nursing Home, Detroit Lakes Early Childhood/Community Education and the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center.

“We like to deliver them so they can be distributed in time for Christmas,” she explained.

The mitten tree project originally began when a local bus driver told Damien Society member Gen Kwako about some local students he had seen boarding the bus without mittens or gloves, obviously suffering from the cold.

That led Kwako to approach her fellow Damiens about taking on a project to bring mittens, gloves and other warm clothing to area youth in need.

Today, the project has grown from filling three trees, to 14, and the items donated have increased proportionately.

“We hope to be distributing over 1,000 articles (mittens, gloves, hats and scarves) this year,” Henke said.

Follow Detroit Lakes Newspapers reporter Vicki Gerdes on Twitter at @VickiLGerdes.

Vicki Gerdes

Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 16 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as covering city council and the Lake Park-Audubon School Board. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.

(218) 844-1454