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HUDSON -- Thanks to an effort which started as a small mitten making project for some needy folks out west, thousands of people across Portage and Summit county shelters are now a bit warmer against winter's continuing bite.
The more than 3,000 sweaters, along with stacks of about 300 mittens and hats were donated by Hudson writer and artist Susan Terkel who began the project by wanting to make mittens for American Indians and supporters fighting to protect water rights against the Dakota Access Pipeline.
According to Terkel, a friend suggested she use a life-long love of repurposing to help keep hands warm against the western cold. Hundreds of mittens were shipped to the water protectors.
"Even as a child, I would repurpose torn socks. Yes, I knew how to darn a hole in a sock as we did in those days," Terkel said. "But I preferred making puppets out of the socks -- then writing a play, making a theater out of boxes used to deliver refrigerators and other large appliances and put on puppet shows."
Terkel said "repurposing, refashioning and renewing have been part of my entire life and continue to be. I have even repurposed fabric into beads for earrings, old wool coats into a crazy quilt my daughter used all through college and I continue to use today."
In order to get fabric for the mittens, Terkel found a family knitting mill, Lake Erie Knitting in Beachwood, which had made sweaters for several upscale labels since 1927 that was closing.
"We were originally just going to take some of the damaged goods," Terkel said.
However, the owner, Gary Rand, decided to give the entire contents of the mill to Terkel for the project, including new and never worn items.
"I, at first, was overwhelmed," Terkel said.
Terkel enlisted the help of friends Barbara Bos, Brigitte Gottfried, Ann Hanna and Dean White, to help sort, clean, pack and pass out the newly acquired inventory.
"You always get back more than you give," Bos said of helping with the project.
According to Bos "everyone can do something every day to make life better for someone else, which also makes your own life better as well."
"I must have sorted a room of sweaters that had never been opened, they were samples and overruns," Terkel said. "I found a wool sweater sample from 1947. That's 69 years. It had never been opened. I took the ones that were damaged and took them out so we could repurposed them for mittens."
A hat, two adult mittens, one pair of child mittens and one pair of thumbs can be made from one child's sweater, according to Terkel. After taking the damaged sweaters for mittens and washing them, Terkel had about 3,500 sweaters to give away.
"Then I found clothing banks and churches that gave clothing away," Terkel said as her voice filled with emotion. "It almost brings me to tears because it is something we do not see in Hudson. Portage County and Ravenna has a clothing bank that serves 150 people a day."
The customers are allowed to take up to 16 items, two of everything, Terkel said.
"Portage County has more poor people in it than any other county in Ohio," according to Terkel. "I have met people who have been so poor, and I have met the saints who are feeding and clothing them."
And as Terkel's supplies have dwindled to a few bags, she wants to take the project a step further and teach repurposing to others.
"I want to show people how to repurpose things," Terkel said. "Even the scraps from cutting them can be used to stuff toy animals and pillows and things. Nothing went wasted. Not a button or a zipper or a scrap of sweater."
Terkel will appear on Hudson Community Television in the near future in a series of shows which will show others how to repurpose items to be reused, especially for mittens and hats. According to Terkel, there are many people who can use hats and mittens, including homeless and refugees, but cannot afford to buy them.
"This is something our generation needs to learn -- to stop wasting things," Terkel said. "And sometimes living in Hudson we don't always see the need first hand."
"It was a worthwhile project," Terkel said. "The way it will continue is when people learn how to repurpose things we might even have local places where people can donate sweaters with holes in them to make mittens, hats, scarves and a cowl-neck collars. I can show them how to do it creatively and for the person it is exciting. It wasn't just meaningful for me, it was challenging creative and fun."
Terkel said she did not go looking for this project.
"But it did come to me as I was looking for sweaters to distribute to the Native Americans in North Dakota, who needed mittens, sweaters and wool hats," Terkel said.
A small pile that couldn't be darned or washed will be used to make mittens and hats to raise money to restore Barlow Farm's barn next year, Terkel said.
"Being part of all that has made me feel extremely grateful to be able to help others, as well as grateful for being able to refashion and renew what others labored on long ago from the sheep who provided the wool, to the factory workers who made it into sweaters," Terkel said. "Actually, everyone who helped me -- Ann, Barbara, Brigitte and Dean -- were such giving souls themselves. Even deepening my friendship with them through this project turned out to be a gift."