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Teen spearheads effort to keep kids warm

More than 300 hats, mittens and scarves are ready for distribution to those who need them through the food shelves served by the Food Resource Center. The items were all hand-knitted as part of the "Hats from the Heart" project, which was the brainchild of HHS freshman Brooke Brokaw. Pictured from left are Annette Rud, United Way resource development manager; Brooke Brokaw; and Linda Lia, United Way operations and marketing manager. Photo by Meg Heaton

Brooke Brokaw, a Hudson High School freshman, found a way to turn a favorite hobby into a community service project.

Through Brokaw's project "Hats from the Heart," children in St. Croix and Pierce counties who need the items will get hand-knitted hats, mittens and scarves.

"I started this effort earlier this year because I wanted to turn my interest in knitting hats into a way to help others. In January I received a "Knifty Knitter" as a birthday gift, and I began to knit hats," said Brokaw.

As her collection of hats grew, she started thinking about how she could share them with people who needed a winter hat. With the help of her mother, Hudson Alderperson Pam Brokaw, she contacted United Way St. Croix Valley and developed a plan to distribute hats.

Brokaw set a personal goal of 200 or more hats and then recruited and trained family members to help with the project. Initially the family purchased the necessary supplies and received a donation from Hudson Wal-Mart. As awareness about the Hats from the Heart project grew, Brokaw began to receive donations of yarn and other supplies from individuals who wanted to help with the effort.

Hats from the Heart was one of the projects included in the Youth Action Hudson (formerly Community Action) communitywide service project on Nov. 8. Students from the high school and middle school worked together to knit 13 hats. More hats and mittens came from her mother's co-workers at 3M.

"For two weeks, we had lunch over knitting. Along with my co-workers, some retirees and people who just heard about the project came in and made things," said Pam Brokaw.

On Tuesday, more than 300 Hats from the Heart will be distributed through United Way St. Croix Valley's Food Resource Center at the 12 food pantries they serve in both counties. Remaining hats will be distributed to help families served by Operation HELP and Grace Place.

"The project goes way beyond the hats that were created during this year's effort. We got people thinking about ways that they could help in their community -- the little things that they do as a hobby or as part of their day that can provide assistance and joy to others," said Brokaw.

"My mission is to make Hats from the Heart a project that continues throughout the year, for many years to come."

Brokaw hopes to expand the project and partner with knitters from the Christian Community Home and other organizations to keep the project going. In addition to her work with Youth Action Hudson, she serves as the co-chairman of the St. Croix Valley Youth Court and volunteers with Big Brothers Big Sisters.

Annette Rud, resource development manager of United Way St. Croix Valley, hopes Brokaw's efforts will inspire others. "I recall thinking wow, look what this young lady has started. It not only gets the hats and scarves to people who need them but creates camaraderie and friendships among young and old through the process of making the hats," said Rud.

United Way director John Coughlin agreed with Rud. "It's great to see young people eager to get involved in charity work to help others. I think that what Brooke has done with Hats from the Heart is a fine example for others. This year, like so many other charitable organizations, United Way is struggling to make our goal. Initiatives such as Brooke's Hats from the Heart help to build awareness and demonstrates how, working together, we really can make our communities a better place for all."

The Food Resource Center opened February of this year. Since then, United Way has distributed more than 225,000 pounds of food to Pierce and St. Croix County pantries and community meal programs.

To learn more about volunteer opportunities or to find out how to support the FRC and other United Way efforts, contact United Way St. Croix Valley at (715) 377-0203 or visit