Paula Papoojian has 32 years of experience as a schoolteacher, many of those in a city among elementary school students who every winter would come to school without hats or mittens. Later in life, she was working with a program to provide winter hats for those in need and began to wonder what, if anything, could be of use to community members here in the Monadnock Region.

“I made some calls and contacted Southwestern Community Services and found there were people, senior citizens, homeless individuals and those who were in shelters for whatever reason, that could use things for winter,” Papoojian, a retail clerk at Harrisville Designs, recalled.

From there, Papoojian organized and founded the “Warm Hands, Warm Hearts” program. Through this program, local knitters and crocheters create winter accessories, including hats, scarves, mittens and socks, and bring them to one of multiple local drop boxes in the area. Papoojian collects the donations and then distributes them throughout the region to organizations that pass them on to those in need.

“Warm Hands, Warm Hearts” collects items for both adults and children and, as any parent knows, the need is ongoing as one pair of mittens very rarely makes it to the next season without suffering the wear and tear of winter play or one being lost along the way.

“Last year, our total was 400 items, including some for adults and some for kids,” Papoojian said. “If we can meet that 400 pairs again this year then I am a happy girl. If we go past, then it is a celebration!”

To help get folks started, free yarn and patterns are available in the retail shop at Harrisville Designs for anyone who wants to participate but isn’t sure how to begin. However, Papoojian clarified that those patterns and yarn are in no way required, being just available as helpful starting point, and a knitter or crocheter is welcome to use any pattern or yarn of their own choosing.

“If anyone needs support they are welcome to come to Harrisville Designs. We are all knitters here and are happy to help,” Papoojian said. “We have a knitting circle every Saturday from 10 a.m. to noon and we always invite the public and everyone is welcome. Those who come don’t have to work on ‘Warm Hands, Warm Hearts,’ but it is an open forum for everyone to come in.

“We hold the knitting circle each week in part for the enjoyment of being together with other fiber arts people and to share information with each other. We feel it is a positive environment to promote what we do here,” Papoojian added.

“I think the participants who come enjoy sharing ideas and they will share a technique if they know something new or they may share patterns. For example, if someone brings in a new shawl, someone else might love it and want to try making it. It’s a real homey environment.”

Since Harrisville Designs makes yarn, Papoojian said it made sense to ally “Warm Hands, Warm Hearts” with the store and to give the business an opportunity to share what they do and invite people in. Harrisville is a small town where people help their neighbors, she said, adding, “fiber people are also very good at helping others,” which makes it a perfect fit.

“They all tell me that their hands need to be doing something,” Papoojian said of the knitters and crocheters who make the winter accessories for the program. “They feel they need to do something of importance, and they are.

“Some work (on items to donate) while helping their children with schoolwork, and others are people who are retired and need something to do and they just crank them out. It gives them a feeling of being useful and that is another need in our community that is being filled.”

When asked if there was anything in particular that the community should know about “Warm Hands, Warm Hearts,” Papoojian didn’t hesitate to say, “I want to make sure to say thank you to all those who joined us in the past and again this year. I greatly appreciate their time and talent.

“It amazes me how many people out there give of themselves and it is very gratifying for me,” she said. “I hope ‘Warm Hands, Warm Hearts,’ is giving back. I hope it is producing things that are comforting and put a smile on your face.”