By the end of the night, almost all of the participants at Middle Way House’s benefit left the Fountain Square Mall ballroom looking as if it were winter, wrapped in knitted hats and scarves.
“It looks cheesy, but the cause behind it is really important,” volunteer Thea Freygang said.
Written on the tag inside the hats and scarves was a phone number: 812-336-0846 – the crisis hotline number for Middle Way House, the only domestic violence shelter and rape crisis center in all of the Southern Indiana counties.
The participants at the “Wrapped in Love” event received a ticket that allowed them to take home one hat or scarf knitted by volunteers.
“After taking a hat or scarf, everyone here will have the main resource they need to spread the word,” Executive Director Debra Morrow said. “We want events like this to raise awareness about our services.”
Middle Way House provides support such as housing, supplies and legal services, as well as advice to those experiencing domestic violence, human trafficking and similar situations.
Freygang was one of many who began volunteering at Middle Way House after she found herself on the other side of the hotline, she said.
Struggling with a husband who she was afraid might become abusive, Freygang reached out to Middle Way for advice on how to handle her situation. She didn’t need money or services yet, she said, but rather just a voice of support to make her feel safe.
“For some people like me, it’s there for extra support, but for some, it saves lives,” she said. “It’s nice to know that there’ll be someone there for you no matter what.”
Some participants and sponsors at the benefit were survivors of domestic violence, such as the director herself.
“I can never forget how Middle Way House wrapped its love around me personally for about two and a half years,” Morrow said.
Freygang stressed the importance of raising awareness about Middle Way House due to Bloomington’s ever-changing population.
“Being a college town, a lot of Bloomington people aren’t permanent residents, so it’s a constant cycle of making new people aware of the services available,” she said.
In addition to the knitted hats and scarves, Middle Way continued its semi-annual tree sweater event, in which volunteers knitted and crocheted pieces that are placed around tree trunks throughout the downtown area.
Some said that the tree wrapping is meant to be a public art installation. Freygang said she thinks of it as an act of gentle defiance.
“It’s like graffiti, but there’s no damage after you cut it down,” she said. “You’re making your message visible to the community without harming it.”
Some tree wraps consisted of simple designs. Some contained messages such as “Picture a World Free of Violence.” Participants then placed coins and dollars into boxes as votes for their favorite tree design.
Freygang said that the money raised at the benefit will go toward many different causes, such as paying utility bills for those being temporarily housed by Middle Way House or buying diapers for expecting mothers.
Freygang said the “Wrapped in Love” event is a creative way to raise awareness and money without simply asking for donations.
“Sometimes you feel bad just asking people for money, especially if they don’t have much,” she said. “An event like this lets us give back to those who support us and show how important they really are to us.”
Correction: A previous version of this article said the tree wraps were cut down. The wraps will hang on trees through March. 15, 2018. The IDS regrets this error.