GREENVILLE — Darke County commissioners and local educators were present Monday morning for the annual decoration of the Fish Mitten Tree at Montage Cafe in downtown Greenville.
“We do this every year, and it’s one of the highlights of our year,” County Commissioner Mike Stegall said after posing for a photo in front of the Mitten Tree, along with Fish representatives, kids from a local preschool, and other commissioners. “We get to meet all kinds of nice kids and people, and help the kids get ready for winter. We really enjoy this, and it’s just for a darn good cause.”
Michelle Sanders, who works in the Head Start program at Kids Learning Place in Greenville, explained a bit about how the Mitten Tree program works.
“We get donations from groups like Fish, and the hats, gloves and mittens come from all over the community,” Sanders said. “Then we distribute them to our students.”
Marilyn Delk elaborated, saying that Fish gathers winter gear collected at trees maintained by a number of different churches throughout the community and other organizations, including the Ben Franklin store in Arcanum and the Brethren Retirement Community in Greenville.
“Fish predated most of the social services in the area,” Delk said. “We were involved in documenting the needs of the community and trying to meet those needs.”
According to Delk, the group is part of a loose collection of similar organizations located throughout the country, and dates back to the Church of England. Fish takes its name from the practice of ancient Christians identifying themselves by drawing a fish symbol during times of persecution by the Roman Empire.
About 50 years ago, according to Delk, Darke County Fish members decided to throw a party for the people they were serving.
“We wanted to do a Christmas party for kids who otherwise wouldn’t get to enjoy a Christmas party,” Delk said. “And two wonderful ladies who are long gone were knitters, and they came up with the idea of the Mitten Tree.”
There were some logistical difficulties to deal with along the way, however.
“We had mittens of all sizes and kids of all sizes, and we couldn’t match them up and get them to come out right!” Delk said. “So we’d end up with a little pair of mittens and a big kid, and sometimes it was more sad than heartwarming.”
When Kids Learning Center got involved, according to Delk, things started to fall into place.
“When Head Start came in, they simplified things greatly, so we’ve been working with them ever since,” Delk said.
Delk, like Commissioner Stegall, said that the Mitten Tree is a worthy cause.
“It’s such a good thing to do, and such a simple thing,” Delk said. “And it allows little kids to participate in the giving as well as the receiving.”