Chamber, Auburn businesses join to provide gifts to those in need

Melody Johnson (right) encourages neighborhood women to take hats and gloves that she was giving away. The outerwear was made by knitters and crocheters connected to the Schweinfurth Art Center and donated to Johnson, owner of Divine Coverings, for the giveaway.

Divine Coverings and Schweinfurth partner to give away hats, gloves at Auburn Rescue Mission

Fall’s unusually warm weather disappeared in time for the second annual hat, glove, and scarf giveaway at Auburn’s Rescue Mission on Wednesday, Nov. 17, 2021. As wind threatened to blow away gift bags carefully arranged on a table outside the building, women started arriving.

They listened as Manager Amy Fuller and Education Coordinator Jessica Wrench from the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce promoted the giveaway on a live Facebook feed. When it was over, the women approached the tables eagerly.

“I’m looking for a hat for my daughter,” said one woman.

“What are her colors?” asked Melody Johnson, owner of Divine Coverings and organizer of the giveaway.

Johnson began her My Hands Warm Your Hearts – By Women, For Women outerwear giveaway in 2020 to bring a bit of cheer to people in need during the pandemic. As a transplant to Central New York, she was shocked by the need for warm hats and gloves.

She reached out to the Schweinfurth Art Center, who connected her to volunteer knitters and crocheters – including a group that meets weekly at the art center – who were happy to help.

The event was so well received that Johnson decided to continue it this year. “I hope that this year’s event will not only warm the hearts of each woman, but will also provide them with gifts for the holidays, so that the giving multiplies,” she said.

In fact, two women donated wrapping paper and gift bags so those receiving the outerwear could give items as Christmas gifts.

Melody Johnson shows off a scarf that was bedazzled for a giveaway at Auburn’s Rescue Mission. “When we bedazzle, we are careful to avoid overwhelming the handiwork of the piece,” she said. Johnson added a ribbon and small gray-colored pearls to the ends of this scarf to enhance its design.

Schweinfurth Program Director Davana Robedee said the art center was happy to work with Johnson again on this project. “We have a wonderful community of fiber artists who are always excited to give back,” she said. “Collaborating with Melody on this project has been wonderful, and we are excited that it continues to grow.”

Crafters from as close as Auburn and as far away as Bedford, NH, donated approximately 30 hats, 20 sets of gloves, and 70 scarves to give away. “My Hands Warm Your Heart – For Women, By Women is truly a community effort,” Johnson said.

Among the people who donated outerwear were knitters who meet weekly at the Schweinfurth: Barb Corey, Cynthia Dempsey, Carol Gamba, Mary Beth Haswell, Jamie Rathbone, Bart Wasilenko, and Lilie Welych.

Other donations came from volunteers Deborah Bilinski, Janice Conrad, Eleanor Elkin, Jody Longeill, Lynn-Marie Perli, Kathleen Rieby, Nikki Schwarz, Martha Van Loon, and Stephanie Walenski.

Johnson recruited volunteers of her own to carefully bedazzle the donations, Auburn residents LeeAnn Slomski, who also helped last year, and Rowena Spades McKoy. They will add a little sparkle to the pieces to make them special for the women and girls receiving them.

“One rhinestone too many makes it gaudy,” Johnson said. “We take time to decide how to bedazzle it so we don’t destroy the artistry. The gift of love is inside every pattern.”

Gary Mann, program director at Rescue Mission, said the giveaway is a wonderful example of the giving spirit that helps Auburn residents. He noted that another example is the chamber’s annual Christmas gift program.

Mann said people who wish to donate gifts can contact him at (315) 246-9151 or for details. The deadline to drop off unwrapped gifts is Dec. 10. Items can be dropped off at the Rescue Mission, 51 Merriman St., Auburn, or the Cayuga County Chamber of Commerce, 2 State St., Auburn.

“Please, let’s help our friends out at the Rescue Mission so everybody can have a happy holiday season,” Fuller said during the Facebook event.

The Schweinfurth Art Center’s programs are made possible by the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature.