An influx of scarf-bombings has caught the attention of people across the metro area. And more are on the horizon thanks to the generosity of one Golden Valley woman.
What is a scarf-bombing? Like a hat- or sock-bombing, these items appear — seemingly overnight — in city parks wrapped around trees and railings or resting at bus stops. The layers, including coats, gloves, sweaters and more, are free for the taking to help people in need bundle up during the blizzard-y months.
Michelle Ungerman Christensen made it her mission to spread such clothing — and kindness. She founded One Good Deed last winter to carry out simple yet profound acts to help others, like scarf-bombings.
Christensen first heard about scarf-bombing a few years ago when reading about homeless people removing crochet art installations on poles and trees to wrap around themselves for warmth. She was drawn to replicating the heartwarming deed.
"You attract what you are. I try to be the best person I can be, so good people surround me," she said.
Christensen, 49, describes her deeds as a ripple of kindness. Where that ripple goes is sometimes unknown. Sometimes, though, she witnesses the power of kindness right before her eyes.
When she rounded up 40 volunteers on a coach bus (the $800 rental fee anonymously covered by a donor) to disperse thousands of items in Minneapolis' Loring Park and St. Paul's Kellogg Park last winter, cars pulled over next to the bus and passengers took the jackets off their backs and tied them around a tree.
Volunteers pinned on the tags, "Take me! I'm Not Lost. I'm Yours." And perfect strangers became part of a movement that continues to grow — not only in the Twin Cities but globally.
Scarf-bombings are believed to have originated four years ago in Ottawa, Ontario, with a do-gooder tying knitted scarves around statues with a note similar to Christensen's. Scarves were later found wrapped around lamp posts in Winnipeg. At the same time, people in Pennsylvania were leaving hats, gloves and scarves on park benches and at bus stops.
Christensen goes back to the parks after a few days to make sure the tags aren't litter. Without fail, all the items are gone.
She leans on professional connections through her work as a project manager assistant at Frana Companies, a general contractor in Hopkins, for donations of items and money; last year, she raised $5,000 to buy food, toiletries, wool socks, sleeping bags and more. But fellow volunteers reach out with other items to donate, as well.
This year, they ventured into making durable denim quilts which they personally hand out to the homeless. Christensen is in the midst of a new project: mats made of "plarn" (plastic yarn).
A mountain of donated plastic bags on her front porch greeted Christensen on a recent lunch break. Random people have been dropping off tons of bags after she put out the request, she said. Her hairstylist even started a donation box in her salon. It takes about 500 bags to create one mat for a person who is homeless to rest on instead of on the cold concrete.
"When [Christensen] puts her mind to something, she does it. There's not even a question of if it's going to get done," said friend and fellow volunteer Christine Mielke. "She knows great people are out there looking for good to be done. She makes it really easy for people to take part. She's gained people's awareness and trust. If you give her an idea, she'll empower you to get it done and set the wheels in motion."
Mielke said she's not surprised to see One Good Deed manifest into what it is today. Several years ago, she gathered with Christensen and a small group of friends to make crafts and drink wine. When the suggestion came up to make Little Free Libraries, Christensen took the idea and ran with it.
What started out as four libraries evolved into 24, when Christensen told a Home Depot manager about their efforts. The store and Frana Companies donated materials and labor to create a fleet of libraries that are now scattered across the metro area.
Christensen's good deeds don't end when it gets warm. Last summer, she held a donation-based garage sale with more than $3,000 in proceeds going to charity organizations YouthLink and PRISM food shelf.
She continues hosting "kindness rocks" art therapy classes with day care centers and Alzheimer's patients. Participants paint rocks with positive messages and images and Christensen leaves boxes of them on her front porch for people to take after they drop off a bag of donated clothes or food. She started collecting old iPods, too, to fill with songs from the 1930s and 40s for seniors to listen to, and she hosts a backpack drive to gather free school supplies.
A "Good Deed Seeds" list inside Christensen's notebook includes items marked off, new ideas added and ongoing efforts she will undoubtedly tackle with the help of friends old and new.
Behind-the-scenes work preparing for scarf-bombings takes months, she said, while dispersing the items takes a few hours. But she recognizes that the impact of her volunteerism wouldn't be as powerful without the help of others.
"One Good Deed came to be because people just really became super-engaged and realized that kindness is incredibly fulfilling and very easy," Christensen said.
"That was the prime directive. Nothing else mattered but the kindness. It started off as my dream and now it's become their dream, too."