If You See Scarfs Wrapped Around Trees This Winter, Here’s What It Means

When winter comes in, it’s worth retrieving those heavy coats and jackets from the back of the closet. It’s also the time of year that individuals often walk down the streets in bulky outerwear and hats pulled low. They could be wearing scarves, too, as a woolen barrier against the bitter cold.

However, this winter, you may get used to seeing these knitted accessories wrapped around more than just people. In particular, you may also see scarves around the trunks and branches of nearby trees. These are intended to do so much more than keep tree bark cosy, however – and here’s why.

In part, it’s to do with the season and how cold it can get in the U.S. In some places, temperatures may plunge well below 0 ⁰F. Urban streets ice over, and inches of snow can pile up. Most families fire up their furnaces or light their fires, however, and watch the snowflakes fall from the cosy comfort of their own homes. But, sadly, not everyone is that lucky.

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Many Americans are homeless, after all, although their exact number is subject to debate. Some reports state that there are half a million citizens without permanent shelter, for instance; others, though, count almost 1.5 million souls in that predicament. And it is precisely because these people don’t have a stable address that it makes it difficult to account for every single individual who qualifies as homeless.

But it was this unknowably large population of American citizens in need that inspired the formation of Chase the Chill in 2008. And the weather in Easton, Pennsylvania, where the charitable campaigning group was founded, is certainly formidable during the winter months. Between December and March, for example, the average temperature in the city does not reach above 40 ⁰F; it can even be as low as -2 ⁰F.

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Knitwear designer Susan Huxley started Chase the Chill, as she was well aware that people made homeless or living in poverty might not be able to afford winter accessories. So, Huxley’s collective decided to start doling out handmade scarves as well as hats, mittens and gloves.

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Chase the Chill called this altruistic action “scarf bombing.” In 2010, however, the group began tying the accessories onto trees so that the needy could take whatever accessories they required. The organization’s Facebook page described this as “an annual graffiti/yarn bombing event that distributes scarves in public places so that those in need – regardless of income and without any qualifiers – can help themselves.”

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With that, the charitable act spread from Easton to cities across the U.S. It even began making headlines when more and more communities woke up to find knitted items up for grabs. In turn, scarf bombing became a volunteering activity for sports teams, church groups and those who simply wanted to help.

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Indeed, as recently as November 2017, the efforts of an individual in Raleigh, North Carolina, came to public attention. There, one good Samaritan knotted 17 scarves around the trees of the State Capitol building, bewildering locals who had never heard of such an action or the organization that had seemingly inspired it.

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Even the director of the Helping Hand Mission, a Raleigh charity focused on clothing those in need, had no idea who was behind the effort. The choice of a government building as the location for the knitwear also surprised her. “There’s nothing you can do around the Capitol that they ain’t taking pictures of,” Sylvia Wiggins told local newspaper The News & Observer.

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Indeed, although we live in an age where seemingly everybody has cameras in their phones, somehow there were no pictures of who had left the scarves in Raleigh. The only clue to the person’s identity, in fact, were notes left with the woolens. “I am not lost,” read the bright yellow tags dangling from each accessory. “If you are cold, take me to keep warm.”

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Each note was signed with an indecipherable signature. A clear capital “H” led into a squiggle of cursive letters, ending with what appeared to be an “L.” The last name possibly began with a “Te” and looked like it finished in “sly.” At the end of the signature, though, were the letters “RN,” perhaps signifying that the mystery donor was a nurse.

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Reporters for The News & Observer therefore delved deeper, hoping to identify the mystery benefactor. In particular, they attempted to match contact information to someone with a name aligning with the characters on the labels. The only person they could find who came close to matching the signature, however – Hattie Teasley – had died in 1993.

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But even if the donator remained anonymous, the scarves themselves may have come in very handy. After all, there are estimated to be 4,000 homeless people in Raleigh, with more than half of them thought to be students in the city’s public schools. What’s more, the day after the knitwear was discovered knotted around trees in Raleigh, temperatures there dipped to 39 ⁰F.

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Scarfed trees haven’t just been seen in North Carolina, however, but as far away as New York State, Georgia, Ohio, Arizona and Minnesota, too. A single event in the city of St. Paul, for instance, resulted in more than 1,000 scarves up for grabs in its 21 parks.

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And the spread of scarf-sharing may, in part, be down to social media. Certainly, at least one woman was inspired to take up the cause herself after seeing a snap online. That woman was Carrie Sexton, the founder of a chapter of Chase the Chill in central Georgia, who told ABC News that a single image was enough to call her to action.

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“The picture was of a bust in a square, with a bright purple scarf tied around the statue’s neck,” Sexton explained in January 2015. “What struck me was the tag on the scarf. It simply said, ‘I am not lost! If you’re stuck out in the cold, take this scarf to keep warm!’ I instantly said to myself, ‘I can do that. I want to do that!’”

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And for others who may want to follow Sexton’s example, starting a chapter of Chase the Chill is simple. After creating a city or state-specific Facebook page – for example, “Chase the Chill Chicago” or “Chase the Chill Illinois” – and promising to acknowledge founder Susan Huxley, a new chapter will receive the organization’s official logo and a note that should go with each scarf.

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From there, scarf bombers can get to work and begin helping others in need, following Sexton’s lead. Indeed, Sexton herself has even said that she hoped that her Chase the Chill chapter’s efforts would inspire others to do the same in their cities.

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“I truly hope that people pay it forward with a good deed,” Sexton said to ABC News. “At least one person has already done that… When I collected the remaining scarves, I found a hat tied to a post that I did not put there.” And, just like that, the warmth can spread around the country.

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