Group of Oxford residents give the gift of warmth
By Steven Hoffman
For Zoe Walsh, Bruce Mowday Jr., Betty Kramer, and others, taking care of their community assumes special meaning this time of year.
That care comes in the form of hats, scarves, and often gloves that they leave around Oxford Borough for those who need that warmth.
In the coming weeks, Ziploc bags containing those items will be tied to telephone poles, benches, fences, and anywhere else those in need will discover them. Each bag will also contain a tag, written in both English and Spanish, that tells people to take the items if they want to, as well as a label explaining who they are for—man, woman, boy, or girl.
“The whole idea of this is someone who needs help can do it without judgment,” Walsh said of the community-based project. “We make them (the bags) very visible and very accessible so people can come and look and choose.”
The bags are put out in the evenings and are mostly gone by the morning. The word is quietly spread when the bags are due to appear.
“We need to help others these days,” Kramer said. “There’s a lot of negative in the world right now. None of us do this to get praise or patted on our backs. We do this out of the kindness of our hearts.”
In 2017, Walsh, Mowday, and volunteers put out about 150 bags, containing hats and scarves, along Third Street in the borough. Kramer recalled seeing people come out as soon as they tied the bags to a fence or a bench or a tree.
“They were so excited just to be warm,” Kramer said.
Walsh said all the bags put out that first year were gone by 2 a.m. She recalled seeing a woman walking her dog that night, in weather that was around 17 degrees. As the volunteers put out the bags, Walsh noticed the woman wasn’t wearing a hat. When they saw the woman again, she had stopped to open one of the bags and put on a hat and scarf.
“That’s taking care of our community,” Walsh said. “We are a town of 5,000 people, and we have to look out for each other. This is one of the ways we do.”
Vanessa Ross, a new volunteer with the group this year, described the effort as “people with good hearts trying to do the right thing.”
Walsh will take Ross around this year as they put out the bags of hope. Walsh described Ross as “just as passionate” about the effort as those who have been involved the past three years.
“There’s just a huge need for this in Oxford,” Ross said. “It’s the time of year to give, and the time of year to love.”
The hats and scarves are donated from people throughout the area.
“People prepare for this every year,” Walsh said. “We’ve already had people donate tons of hats.”
Kramer, who has been involved since the beginning, is one of those knitters. Usually she will knit a hat or a scarf or two in the summer and continue throughout the year.
“There were some nights at maybe 1 or 2 o’clock in the morning where I’d just be sitting and crocheting,” she said. “It just made me happy.”
There is even a place at Flickerwood Wine Cellars and Twisted Treats in Oxford where community members can drop off items to be distributed during the “hat project.” Flickerwood is at 520 Market St., Suite A.
If you don’t knit or crochet but still want to help, there are plenty of opportunities.
“We have people who cut twine for us and drop it off,” Walsh said, referring to the twine used to secure the Ziploc bags in their various locations. “We have people who leave us boxes of Ziploc bags. People can help in any way.”
For as much as Walsh, Mowday, and the others serve as guardian angels for those in need, they have their own guardian angels as well, people who watch out for them when they distribute the bags. People like Brian Hoover, the Oxford Borough manager who got permission from the borough council this year for the group to continue their work. And the Oxford Police Department, whose officers make sure the volunteers are safe when the weather is not, according to Walsh.
“We’ve had so much support from our community and our residents and people in the surrounding areas,” Walsh said. “We have so much support from people who keep an eye on us as we’re running around in 20-degree weather.
“We love and appreciate everything we get. Because everyone knows it’s going to people who absolutely need it and appreciate it.”