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Four decades after Detroit Lakes' Damien Society members first started setting up mitten trees around town to gather mittens, hats and scarves for area children in need, the Damien Mitten Tree project is going stronger than ever.

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But this year's drive, which officially started on Friday, is tinged with sadness: The project's founder and chief cheerleader, Genevieve Kwako, passed away last week after a long illness.

"We are definitely going to miss her," said DelRae Chivers, co-chair for this year's project, along with Sharon Sinclair.

"She had a wicked sense of humor -- she always made us laugh," said Damien Society member Cheri Bergen.

While expressing their sorrow, however, the group also recognizes that Kwako herself would be quite proud to see the lasting impact her pet project has had on the community.

Though some of the mittens, scarves and hats come from Damien Society members, Sinclair said, "the majority comes from the community members who see the importance of this project."

"It's a very no-nonsense, uncomplicated process -- kind of like Gen's personality," she added.

The project has expanded to include trees being set up in 11 different businesses around Detroit Lakes, including: Wells Fargo, First Security, Bremer, American National and State banks; Central Market, Detroit Lakes Newspapers; St. Mary's Nursing Center; Lakeshirts; and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center (sponsored by the Morning Rotary Club).

The mitten trees were set up at businesses around Detroit Lakes on Friday, and will remain up until Dec. 20, when all the hats, scarves and mittens are picked up and brought to Chivers Realty for sorting.

Once sorted according to size, etc., the winter apparel will be distributed to elementary and middle schools in Frazee, Detroit Lakes and Lake Park-Audubon, Holy Rosary School, Circle of Life School, the Anishinaabe Center, Mahube Head Start, the Detroit Lakes Boys & Girls Club, Lakes Crisis & Resource Center, Detroit Lakes Commu-nity Education and DL Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE).

Because the recipients of the warm outer garments will be of varying ages and sizes, there is a need for mittens, hats and scarves of varying sizes, Sinclair noted.

"We need baby mittens, and we need some adult-size mittens too," she said. "Any size is appropriate."

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Vicki Gerdes
Staff writer at Detroit Lakes Newspapers for the past 14 years, currently editor of the entertainment and community pages as well as obituaries. Living in DL with my cat, Smokey.
(218) 844-1454
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