Each fall, an array of sweaters decorate the trees in downtown Bloomington. Colorful designs adorn trees from People’s Park to the restaurants on the square.
But the tree sweaters aren’t just for decoration.
The sweaters are part of an annual project that supports Middle Way House, a local organization that offers services to survivors of domestic violence. For more than ten years, the tree sweaters have been a yearly tradition that gives sponsors the opportunity to honor a person or organization, many of them survivors or victims of abuse.
The crisis hotline number and additional information about Middle Way House is on each sweater. Amalia Shifriss, outreach communications coordinator, said the sweaters themselves along with promotion on social media have helped raise awareness not only in the community, but for victims of abuse.
“It’s proof that it’s a great way to spread awareness not only for fundraising, but for people who really need it,” Shifriss said.
Each sweater has a sponsor and a creator. The sweaters are all knitted by volunteers who use their own supplies. Many of the sweaters are taken down in the spring, washed and reused each year.
People can sponsor the sweaters, and certain levels of sponsorship are still available by email, firstname.lastname@example.org. The sweaters are up from October through March.
Anna Strout, a volunteer at Middle Way, sponsors trees each year in honor of her mother Toby, former executive director of Middle Way House, who died in 2017. This year, Middle Way House surprised Anna and her family with a portrait of her mother on Middle Way House’s personal tree sweater, surrounded by words such as “feminist,” “foremother” and “friend.”
“We’ve been crying with appreciation and joy since they unveiled that tree,” Strout said. “It’s a great way to keep her vision alive.”
The trees raise awareness for social justice issues as well. Some of this year’s sweaters honor survivors of sexual assault, the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th Amendment, the Black Lives Matter movement and more
Middle Way House has raised over $32,000 so far this year. They debuted 10 new sweaters in addition to the 48 that are reused, bringing the total number to a record 58 tree sweaters.
Christopher DeYoung, a Middle Way House board member said the sweaters are very poignant for the families, victims and other causes they honor.
“There are a lot of emotions wrapped up in the sweaters,” DeYoung said.
DeYoung helped organize the project and all additional events to promote it, including the “Wrapped in Love” yarn cutting ceremony on the square outside the courthouse last Friday, and the upcoming “Young Champions for Change Un-Luncheon” which will be held over Zoom this Friday.
While the events are important to the organization, DeYoung said, the goal of the sweaters is ultimately to honor the victims of domestic violence.
“It’s more than just sweaters,” DeYoung said. “At the end of the day, it’s about people.”
If you or someone you know is a survivor of sexual assault or rape, there are resources to help. The Division of Student Affairs offers confidential support. To speak to a confidential victim advocate, call 812-856-2469 or email email@example.com. For more resources in Bloomington, click here. Call 911 in an emergency.