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The Damien Society Mitten Tree

It's been 44 years since Damien Society member Gen Kwako was contacted by a local bus driver about the fact that some of his young passengers often boarded the bus without mittens and caps to protect them from the weather.

Kwako, with the help of her fellow Damiens, organized the first Damien Mitten Tree drive, in which local residents were asked to donate hats, scarves and mittens to give to children in need during the holiday season.

The "mitten trees" were set up at various locations around town, so that residents could bring in their donations and hang them on the tree, to be displayed until they were distributed a few weeks later.

Since those beginnings more than four decades ago, the Damien Mitten Tree has become "one of those holiday traditions in the community," says DelRae Chivers, who chairs this year's mitten tree drive.

The annual event has grown to the point where each year's drive brings in well over 700 donated items, Chivers says, and "we're expecting about the same amount this year," she adds.

"We have members of the community who work on this the whole year," Chivers says. "They're probably knitting mittens for the tree even in July."

Of course, not everyone has the knack for making homemade items, so the Damiens also welcome newly purchased donations. Sizes needed include everything from infant to adult.

Cash donations are also welcomed. The cash donations enable the Damiens to make last-minute purchases as needed, Chivers explains.

Locations of the 12 Damien "mitten trees" set up for the 2010 holiday season include: Wells Fargo Bank, First Security Bank, Bremer Bank, Midwest Bank, American National Bank, State Bank & Trust, Central Market, Detroit Lakes Newspapers, Midwest Bank, American National Bank, St. Mary's Living Community, Lakeshirts, Speak Easy, and the Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center.

Donations can be dropped off at any of these locations, starting Friday, Dec. 3 and continuing until Tuesday, Dec. 21, when the items will be collected and distributed.

"This is a great group effort, from the businesses who host the trees and the people who give the donations," Chivers said.

"Everybody wants to be in the giving spirit during this time of year," adds mitten tree committee member Beth Schupp. "It's such an easy way to contribute, and it gives them a chance to feel good about what they're doing."

Recipients of this year's donations will include children and adults at area schools, Mahube Head Start; Lakes Crisis & Resource Center; Emmanuel Community; Detroit Lakes Boys & Girls Club; and Community Education/Early Childhood Family Education.

Besides the annual mitten tree project, Chivers noted that the Damien Society also contributes funding for a variety of other charitable organizations and projects, including:

The Becker County Food Pantry; Becker County Historical Society; Boys & Girls Club; the American Cancer Society of Becker County; Dollars for Scholars; Emmanuel Foundation; Habitat for Humanity; Friends of the Library; Historic Holmes Theatre; Humane Society of the Lakes; Lakes Area Crisis & Resource Center; LifeLine; Minnesota Flyers Gymnastics; American Red Cross; Salvation Army; St. Mary's Essentia Health Foundation; Christmas and Thanksgiving families and Lakes Area Young Life.

For more information, contact DelRae Chivers at 218-847-3112.

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