New Beginning for Warmer Winters
By Amanda Burke
FITCHBURG -- Warmer Winters has been running on a shoe-string budget the past year-and-a-half. But volunteers never stopped knitting hats, gloves and sweaters to give to anyone who needs them.
“As long as there are people still cold, we will still be distributing items,” David Roth, president of the board of Warmer Winters, said on Friday.
Executive Director Judy Gentry launched the grassroots non-profit nearly 13 years ago. Her mission was to create a community of knitters whose wares benefit those without warm winter clothing.
“Our values are to respect everyone’s dignity, no matter who they are,” said Gentry.
Warmer Winters has undergone a series of changes over the past 18 months. The organization moved into its a new home inside First Parish Church of Fitchburg, from its prior headquarters at Congregational Church of Christ in Leominster.
Since the closure of its former fiscal agent, the Cleghorn Neighborhood Center, Warmer Winters has been unable to access its funding, funding that would normally be used to purchase the yarn volunteers transform into wintertime outerwear, according to Roth.
So, for more than a year the organization has relied solely on the generosity of its volunteers, said Roth. Volunteers purchased yarn out-of-pocket, using it to knit outerwear that is donated to agencies and people in need across Worcester County.
Despite the lack of money, Warmer Winters volunteers made and distributed about 4,000 items over the past year-and-a-half, said Roth.
“We have 100 volunteers that just care,” he said. “They kept Warmer Winters going four 18 months with no budget.”
A “New Beginnings Appreciation Dinner” will be held on Monday, Nov. 12, from 6 to 8:30 p.m., to celebrate Warmer Winters’ new home at First Parish Church at 923 Main St. in Fitchburg.
The dinner will honor the volunteers, donors, and all those who support the organization. The meal is completely free to attend, and open to all, regardless of affiliation with Warmer Winters, said Gentry.
“Anybody who wants to come by can come by,” she said.
Those who wish to attend the dinner must RSVP so organizers know how much food to prepare, said Roth. RSVP by calling 508-254-0003 or sending an email to firstname.lastname@example.org .
A “brainstorming” session will begin after the Nov. 12 dinner. The discussion will center around what’s in store for Warmer Winters, and ideas for maximizing the number of items it distributes this year.
Warmer Winters is slowly recovering some of its funding with help from the office of Mayor Stephen DiNatale and its new fiscal agent, the Montachusett Opportunity Council, according to Roth.
As he explained, Warmer Winters is a “true grassroots nonprofit,” meaning none of its board members, volunteers or leaders receive payment for their work.
According to Roth, the organization spends 100 percent of the money it raises buying yarn. One year of yarn costs about $6,000, said Gentry.
This fall Warmer Winters launched its first-ever public donation campaign, said Roth.
Warmer Winters will continue hosting a monthly “Knit Knight” on the third Friday of every month at its new home at First Parish church. All are welcome to attend, said Gentry.
Gentry will also continue traveling the community teaching knitting sessions at places like the Arc of Opportunity on Main Street, and local senior living centers.
Ensuring residents stay warm this winter is one part of her organization’s mission, said Gentry. The other part is helping members of the community feel part of something bigger than themselves, all by teaching them how to knit items that will benefit others.
“One half of our mission is helping people feel useful, helping them not feel down on their luck,” she said.