Making sure everyone stays warm every winter, the Newtown Police Department is asking for donations of mittens, hats and scarves once again this year.
For more than a decade, one woman has stepped up from far away to make sure their “Mitten Tree” is fully decorated, and this year, she’s back in Connecticut to see it for herself.
"I love doing things for other people. I’ve always done it,” said Judy LaBranche.
Fifteen years ago, LaBranche said there was an article in a local newspaper asking people to knit mittens.
“I said to my husband Bill, this is something I can do,” LaBranche said.
She lived in Shelton at the time, but answered Newtown’s call for mittens.
Newtown Officer Maryhelen McCarthy got the whole thing started.
A tree is put up in the department’s lobby the day after Thanksgiving, and they keep it up until New Year’s Day, and anyone can donate, but not as much as LaBranche.
"Every year I would get this huge box a couple days before Thanksgiving, and then the first mittens up on the tree are from the ‘mitten tree lady’,” McCarthy said.
For the past decade, that box came all the way from Florida, where LaBranche had moved with her husband.
She kept knitting, but got some funny looks from people in the Sunshine State.
"I was in the Orlando airport waiting for my friend one day and there was a man sitting next to me and he said, ‘ma’am, I’m watching you put that thumb on that mitten - do you realize you're in Florida’,” LaBranche said.
It’s not all mittens handmade by LaBranche. A basket was donated by first graders at Head of Meadow School, and they also decided to make some decorations to go along with them as well.
People go into the police department lobby to take what they need, but the town’s Human Services Department helps to find families who could use a gift from the heart.
"It’s love. It’s not just, ‘well here you go, here's a gift card.’ These are all things that are made with love,” McCarthy said.
Now that LaBranche is back in Connecticut, she gets to see all of that love, first hand.
"I’m just happy to do it, and I’ll tell you, when you walk down the street in Bethel or Newtown and you see a child with a pair of mittens on that you made, that I made... it just touches my heart,” LaBranche said.
Copyright 2015 WFSB (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.