ALLOUEZ, Wis. (WBAY) - Thousands of children and veterans will stay warm this winter thanks to a huge donation of hand-made hats created in the most unlikely place.
In August, we took you inside Green Bay Correctional Institution to show you the small group of inmates spending all day knitting and crocheting hats, scarves and blankets.
Those are then donated to newborn babies in local hospitals, kids in area schools and veterans undergoing chemotherapy treatments.
After our original story aired, word spread quickly through social media, spurring people across the country into action, making dozens of surprise donations to the project.
"She came in and she's like, this came from Texas," one inmate tells us. "I'm like, seriously?!"
And Florida, California, Colorado and Maryland, plus, of course, Wisconsin.
Countless bags and boxes of yarn have arrived at Green Bay Correctional the last few months.
"We got one package that was a little box packed with yarn, but it was the thought of it that somebody sent it. It came from Colorado," says Ms. Thanos, a teacher in the prison's Mainstream Unit, a specialized program for two dozen inmates with medical or mental health issues or cognitive disabilities. "It wasn't the quantity of the yarn or the quality of the yarn. It was the idea of it, and it really does touch all of us."
It was not at all the response this group expected after we shared their work this summer.
"That's good. It brightened up my day. I like to see more coming in," another inmate tells us.
In an effort to protect victims, the Department of Corrections asked us not to identify inmates by name.
Knitting hats is therapeutic for them, giving them a chance to give back.
"That's a great feeling to know that there's some child out there right now -- it's snowing right now -- there's some child wearing one of these hats that was made by guys down here, and that's a very warming feeling," says an inmate who also tutors in the Mainstream Unit. "As long as someone is getting it that really needs it... that's the only thing that really matters is touching others, making a difference to others. Someone out there is walking around, don't know where this hat came from, but nevertheless, they've got a warm head."
But even more, it's the thought strangers are giving these guys a second chance.
"I don't know if it's that I've been locked up so long that I became jaded, but I think that was refreshing to see. They don't know what I did to get here, but they was willing, because I was doing something good. So it's something that's greater than me, so it's humans helping humans. That was the great part of it, so I think that kind of gave you a sense of humanity, right? It kind of restarts that you are someone, that you are a person, that you are a human being, and people believe in me, regardless of what I've did in the past. They believe in what I'm doing. They believe in helping me help others, and I think that's a rewarding feeling."
The group has enough yarn to last them through the holidays, but they say they'll gladly accept more donations of yarn to make even more hats and scarves. They also want to start making quilts. To do that, they say they need donations of fabric and batting.
If you'd like to make a donation, the Department of Corrections provided this address:
Green Bay Correctional Institution
Attn: MU Program Supervisor
2833 Riverside Dr.
PO Box 19033
Green Bay, WI 54307-9033