Damien Mitten Tree project accepting donations through Dec. 19

The Damien Mitten Trees have already begun popping up at various locations around Detroit Lakes. A total of 19 trees are being sponsored this year, with donations of mittens, gloves, hats, scarves and other warm winter gear being accepted through Dec. 19, for distribution to area school children and others in need this holiday season.

Mitten tree sign.jpg
Those hoping to contribute to the Damien Mittne Tree project should look for this sign on Christmas trees at businesses and other public locations around town, starting this week and continuing through Monday, Dec. 19. Just place donated mittens, gloves, hats, scarves and other warm winter gear directly on the trees.
Vicki Gerdes / Detroit Lakes Tribune

DETROIT LAKES — Every holiday season since 1968, Detroit Lakes' Damien Society has been doing its part to warm hands, heads and hearts of area residents in need with its annual Mitten Tree project.

Starting this week, Christmas trees adorned with red "Damien Mitten Tree" signs will start popping up at local businesses, restaurants, schools and other public locations — and organizers are hoping that the trees will quickly become filled with mittens, gloves, hats and scarves of every size, shape and color imaginable.

A total of 19 trees are being sponsored this year, in locations including Bremer, Midwest, First Security, Wells Fargo and Bell State bank offices; Detroit Lakes Newspapers (at its new location in the Forum Printing building, 1030 15th Ave. SW); Essentia Health St. Mary's; Sanford Health; Central Market; Holiday Inn (this tree is sponsored by the Detroit Lakes Breakfast Rotary); La Barista (in the Washington Square Mall); the Detroit Lakes Public Library; Lakeshirts; Detroit Lakes United Methodist Church; Detroit Lakes Community & Cultural Center; and the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency office (714 Lake Ave.).

"Both Rossman and Roosevelt elementary schools will have trees," she said, noting that these trees are being sponsored by the first and third grade classes at both schools. "I think it's a really neat thing to teach to the kids about giving, and thinking about somebody besides themselves," Norby added.

Donations to the Rossman and Roosevelt trees, Norby said, will be distributed directly to those in need at both buildings rather than being picked up on Dec. 19, which is the deadline for submitting donations to include in this year's project.


Donations can include mittens, gloves, hats, scarves "and other warm winter gear," Norby said, either of the homemade or store-bought variety, and all sizes are welcome, as some get distributed to adults as well as children. The only requirement is that the submitted outerwear be both as warm and waterproof as possible.

Cash donations are also more than welcome, Norby added, as they enable the Damiens to make last-minute purchases to fill specific, requested needs. "Just leave the envelope on the tree, or drop it off at the front desk (of the participating business or agency)," she said. Checks can also be made out to the Damien Society and mailed to them at P.O. Box 514, Detroit Lakes, MN 56502.

Once the donations have been collected on Monday, Dec. 19 — just in time for the start of students' winter break on Dec. 22 — they will be distributed to schools throughout Detroit Lakes, as well as the Boys and Girls Clubs in both Detroit Lakes and Callaway, the Lakes Crisis & Resource Center, and Head Start programs in Detroit Lakes, Callaway and White Earth. Elementary schools outside Detroit Lakes, including those in Frazee, Audubon and Ogema are also included, Norby said.

Some donations go to adults in need as well, she added, including residents of both local nursing homes as well as emergency room patients at Essentia Health St. Mary's who are admitted without warm clothing.

How did the Mitten Tree project begin?

The Damien Mitten Tree Project was the brainchild of the late Gen Kwako, a longtime Damien Society member who died in 2006 at age 84.

Back in 1966, Kwako was contacted by a local school bus driver, who had noticed that several kids were getting on his bus without any mittens to keep their hands warm during the cold winter months. She, with the help of her fellow Damiens, organized the first mitten tree drive.

The project has come a long way since its early days: In that first year, just two trees were set up at local banks, with about 100 pairs of mittens collected. This year, 19 trees are being set up, and judging by recent drives, well over 1,000 items are expected to be collected by the Dec. 19 deadline.

"People are so enthusiastic (about participating)," Norby said, adding that everyone she called about sponsoring a tree this year responded almost immediately with a "yes," and local quilters, knitters and similar groups have already begun making warm clothing.

A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at
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