What happens when you mix a Hollywood actress and two shining stars from Clawson? A humble organization knitted together to provide warm hands during Michigan’s harsh winters.
Actress Erin Cummings (“Astronaut Wives Club,” “Spartacus: Blood and Sand” and “Detroit 1-8-7”) and Clawson residents Wendy Shepherd and Melissa Morris gathered at AirTime Trampoline & Game Park in Troy last week to kick start the Mittens for Detroit donation season.
Cummings started the nonprofit organization five years ago when living in Royal Oak while filming the TV show “Detroit 1-8-7.”
The actress was at the home of her cousin, Kathi Moss, on Halloween when two crying trick-or-treaters came to the door with freezing cold hands because they lost their mittens. Moss welcomed the children in along with their mother, warmed their hands and gave them a hug and candy before sharing a spare pairs of mittens.
“I didn’t do anything,” Cummings said. “I was just observing one human displaying a simple act of kindness to another by offering the most basic need, which was warmth, during a very cold Halloween night.
“And I saw the instantaneous transition and transformation of these young girls on Halloween night so they were able to enjoy their Halloween as other children do.”
The next morning, Cummings decided she wanted to pass out mittens and gloves to children and adults in the metro Detroit area.
“I had no intention of starting a charity. I just kind of wanted to get gloves and give them to people,” Cummings said. “And then about four months later, we had collected and given out almost 10,000 pairs of gloves with no financial donations at all.”
As the deed turned into an organization that continued to grow, it became clear to Cummings that she needed help. At about the same time, Shepherd learned about Mittens for Detroit and wanted to become involved.
She polished her resume of well-suited talents and professional background and contacted Mittens for Detroit. After cross-state interviews and successful conversations with Cummings, Shepherd was hired as the executive director.
“With the addition of Wendy as our executive director, the organization has just skyrocketed and has grown so much larger than I ever could have ever imagined and dreamed,” Cummings said. “And, of course, the value of that is that we are able to help so many more thousands of people.”
Last year, Mittens for Detroit donated about 48,000 pairs of new or recently knitted mittens and gloves for people of all ages and genders.
The organization attracted corporate partners like Starbucks, Weight Watchers and FCA US/Chrysler, the organization’s largest private collection partner. Local partners include Leon & Lulu, Lily’s Seafood, Fifth Avenue and Five15.
“We are fun, we’re doing important work, we’re very small and mighty, but we really are doing important stuff and it’s really easy for people to get involved,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd’s goal for this giving season is to collect 55,000 pairs of mittens or gloves. Cash donations also are accepted to help run the nonprofit or to purchase handwear at wholesale prices through partner Broner Hat and Glove Company in Auburn Hills.
The executive director said the generosity the group has seen so far from donors throughout the United States is overwhelming.
“We spend a lot of time crying,” she said.
Morris, AirTime sales manager, is one of those donors who heard about the group and knew it would be a perfect match for the indoor jumping zone’s philanthropic endeavors.
“AirTime does a lot of giving back to the community,” Morris said. “So I was searching and I stumbled upon the mittens, and I thought, ‘I love this. I love the whole concept.’”
AirTime brought in more than 1,000 gloves or mittens last year.
After connecting with Shepherd to see how to get involved, it didn’t take long to learn that both women were Clawson residents and lived three blocks away from one another.
“And the thing was, we didn’t even know until last year when we got involved in this,” Morris said. “We’re like long-lost sisters.”
Cummings said the partnership with AirTime is important because it is a family friendly place and local schools make outings out of coming, jumping and donating.
“And that’s wonderful when you can engage people at a young age of the gift of altruism. It creates a cycle of generosity,” she said.
Cummings said every donation represents a pair of warm hands, and she feels fortunate to be a spokesperson and a voice for the group, but she gives credit to Shepherd and all of the volunteers who collect, sort and deliver the gloves and mittens.
“It’s not about one person or small group of people,” she said. “It’s about the community coming together, and I think that is something that couldn’t happen in every city.
“That spirit of Detroit that people talk about — what I saw was the generous spirit of people in Detroit. People who, regardless of how much they were able to give, wanted to do something nice, and Mittens for Detroit just makes it so easy.”