By Carol South
Special to the Record-Eagle
TRAVERSE CITY — An irrepressible 8-year-old can move mountains.
Deciding that area homeless people need scarves for Christmas, Ada Maas and her family are donating more than 250 of them before the holiday. The scarves are being distributed through the Safe Harbor program and the Goodwill Inn.
That total includes 230 hand-knit scarves Maas has received from all over the country, thanks to a short letter she sent out in June that touched hearts from Florida to California.
Befriending a local homeless person sparked the idea. Maas and her family regularly see him after she and her brother, Garrett, take swimming lessons at the Grand Traverse County Civic Center.
"It was so cold, rainy and wet, I ... gave him my lunch," said Maas, who began packing an extra lunch each week. If there was a break from lessons, she would let him know and reassure him she would be back.
"Ada personally adopted him, whether he liked it or not," said Maas' grandmother, Patty Brzezinski.
On a frigid January day earlier this year, Maas also noticed that the homeless man was huddled in blankets.
"She got back in the van and said how cold he looked," Brzezinski added. "Then she got real quiet and we knew she was thinking."
A scarf seemed like the perfect idea: a hug of warmth made with love. Her grandmother knits and Maas began a scarf of her own as the idea took shape. She eventually gave that one to someone else, but the process brought home that more help was needed.
She wrote a letter asking for donations and the family set a goal, hoping to receive 75 scarves by Christmas. They mailed it to friends and relatives around the country, asking them to pass the word.
The family has been amazed by the response as box after box came in the mail or donations were dropped off at her school. Friends, acquaintances and complete strangers pitched in to help locally.
"They just kept coming," said Brzezinski. "We got our first box from Florida in August, a knitting club there, and they have sent 96 scarves in two boxes."
"I'm absolutely overwhelmed by the generosity of people who don't know any of us."
This is the third year that Maas, a third grader at Willow Hill Elementary School in Traverse City, has directly helped area homeless. Two years ago, it was socks: she and her brother delivered 75 pairs, festively wrapped, to the Safe Harbor homeless shelter program.
Last year, when Maas learned that children staying at the Goodwill Inn did not celebrate birthdays with a cake and trimmings, she raised money and supplied cake mixes, frosting and candles.
The scarf donations will be appreciated on multiple levels, from practical warmth to knowing someone cares, said Ryan Hannon, street outreach coordinator for Goodwill Industries of Northwest Michigan.
Though the winter started out mild until recently, numbers at Safe Harbor are already up. In November, an average of 36 people per night stayed with Safe Harbor, which provides church-based temporary shelter — that's an increase of five people per night over November 2011.
As winter sets in and the need rises, one little girl can make a difference. To Hannon, the scarf ministry Maas established sets a "wonderful example" for everyone.
"Ada is practicing the life of a giving heart and really showing her faith and treating people as Jesus would," Hannon said.