When Alex VanHaren was nine years old, he noticed that some kids on the playground didn’t have any coats or gloves to keep them warm in the cold weather. He went home and immediately insisted to his mother that they learn how to knit so they could provide items for his schoolmates, a promise he kept by learning how to loom scarves. However, when he realized looming on his own wasn’t sufficiently meeting his community’s needs, Alex and his mom set out a donation box and reached out to social media to help fill it.
And so Scarves 4 Cozy Kids, the charity that Alex has run for the past seven years, was born. Now 16, Alex has expanded to both annual and monthly collections for different organizations in need throughout his home state of Michigan. In total, he has provided over 10,000 hats, gloves and scarves to kids in need, as well as over 450 used eyeglasses to the Lions Club, one-hundred-six pounds of soda pop tops for the Ronald McDonald House and more than 50 boxes of personal hygiene items for local domestic violence shelter HAVEN.
Describe your role with Scarves 4 Cozy Kids.
Scarves 4 Cozy Kids is a charity that helps less fortunate families in the wintertime by collecting and distributing winter items, like articles of winter clothing, hats, gloves and scarves. I founded it, and I am the CEO.
What inspired you to start this organization?
Around the time when I was just getting out of elementary school, I was on the playground outside in the winter, and I noticed that a lot of kids didn’t have coats, hats and gloves. They were cold in the winter and they still had to be outside for recess. I felt bad for them. That day, I went home to my mom and told her we need to learn how to knit.
How did you go from wanting to learn to knit to where you are now?
It started out with me [looming] two scarves, where I would have one for me and I would give one to someone else. Seeing that it wasn’t super efficient, I decided, hey, wouldn’t it be better if there was a box full of them for people to come through and get one if they needed it? We ended up asking the principal of my elementary school at the time, Oxford Elementary School, and he said yes, we could do that. Me and my mom, together, would knit enough scarves to fill up a box, and we would put it right outside the office for people to come and take when they needed it.
How have you expanded your work?
Instead of just doing hats, gloves and scarves only in the winter, we’ll collect them all year. We’ll end up doing one different charity collection a month, and normally two annual collections for each year. One of the annual ones we have is we collect pop tabs for the Ronald McDonald House for people who cannot afford hotels when their children are in the hospital. Ronald McDonald House uses the money they get from recycled pop tabs to be able to help fund a hotel for the families of the kids who are in hospitals. We did that to get the word out about other charities, and to help spread awareness for our charity and what we do.
which of the collections has been particularly meaningful for you?
There’s one we do every single year since we started. I’m an animal lover. There’s an animal rescue right on the edge of Oxford called K-9 Stray Rescue League. We will collect animal food, collars, towels, blankets – all the stuff you would need for shelter animals to be more comfortable when they get adopted. That means a lot to me because I’m an animal lover, and I get to see the change.
How does it feel to see your community helping you with these collections?
I feel amazing about it. It’s nice seeing my community unite for a common cause to help other people when a lot of families don’t end up thinking about that a lot of times.
What goals do you have for Scarves 4 Cozy Kids?
My charity spans a fairly large range. For the main charity, where we give the winter items to unfortunate families through schools, I think we’re at 20 schools, maybe a few more. I would hope to see that expand to all of Michigan eventually.
What’s been the most rewarding part of your work?
Being able to see the change and everyone coming together to make that change.
What do you want people to learn from your story?
Any little bit of help can spark into something amazing and powerful. It can become a movement and help so many people.
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Alex? Find local volunteer opportunities.