When I started this project in 2016, I never could have imagined how much it would expand in just a year. I had no idea what I was in for! There were about fifty people who donated scarves for the 2017 Install, and we hung those up with six volunteers. This year, the first day I made the Facebook event page, a hundred strangers shared the event and according to Facebook Insights, the event reached 307K people and 29K officially viewed the page. By the day of the Install, just shy of 950 people were RSVP’d as “going”, and 5.6 thousand were “interested” in going. Obviously that’s quite a jump from 50 people.
For the past ten weeks, organizing this project has essentially been a full-time job. My business has been neglected because of how much work I’ve needed to do for the Scarf Abandonment, even just in admin work, like answering e-mails and Facebook messages. My house and car became a permanent location for an enormous amount of bags full of scarves, and my boyfriend and I didn’t have access to our living or dining room for weeks. (The day of the install when we loaded up the U-Haul van, we were jumping around the dining room shouting, “So much room for activities!”) I perfected answering the same questions over and over again, including accusatory ones that asked me why I wasn’t doing X, Y, and Z because that would be better than what I was already doing.
It was all worth it.
The day of the install, when I showed up and there were two blocks jammed full of people clutching their donations they were so eager to give in these Code Blue temperatures, I couldn’t have been happier. I was stressed, sure, but I was beaming. I felt the energy so hard from the hundred plus people who showed up that Saturday who were genuinely excited to donate their goods and time to not just those in need, but to the project itself to make sure it ran smoothly.
Everyone checked in with my dad and his clipboard to let him know what they had brought that day, which we later added to the total tally of donations. A volunteer taped up my hot pink signs that said, “If you need a scarf, take a scarf” along the fence at Guilford and E. Madison. Everyone squished down to the end of the block to make room for the hoards of people crossing the street to check in their donations. At 2:00 on the dot, I made an announcement of how to tie scarves to the fence, to make sure to double up on the scarves as much as possible because we had way more scarves than there were posts, and to just go to town in a free-for-all, and 1-2-3, GO! And they went.
What a colorful, textured, patterned, beautiful group effort it was. The entire thing was done by 2:30. Yes, there were some stragglers who were able to hang their donations up all the way till a little past 3:30, and we even had a little overflow on the fence across the street, but all of the scarves were officially installed in less than a half hour because of how many people were there to lend a hand.
That’s not the only way people helped out, either. On one side of the fence there were two tables with bins for non-scarf winter gear (hats, gloves, socks, coats), and those in need were able to come around and get bags to fill up with what they needed as they dug through the donations. Volunteers, including my mom, helped people find gear that suited their needs and interests.
Don’t forget the tagging station! There was a table dedicated to the positive tags that had been made by so many creative and lovely people with sayings like, “I’m not lost, I’m yours”, “This would look much better on you”, and “Stay warm, you’re lovely” written on them. Many of the tags were created at two Tag Making Parties at the Roll Up N Dye studio owned by Erin Cassell in Columbia. I could not have accomplished the tag making goal without her generosity of the use of her studio space and supplies, as well as the people who came out to donate hours on a weekday evening to making tags!
And when I posted a couple days before the Install Day that I thought we’d need a bunch of extra tags, people really delivered. I actually ended up with extra tags that I will be saving for next year.
The tags are honestly my favorite part of the installation because it adds not just a handmade, but a personal touch to the gifting aspect. It’s the difference between giving someone their present in the bag it came from at the store you bought it at and taking the time to wrap it and write a card, you know? It’s just different and more special. And to be able to walk down the fence and see all these special personalized notes in so many different handwritings was heartwarming as hell.
People came up to me all day Saturday and asked if I expected to have this many scarves, and I said, “Pretty much, but I didn’t expect it to look like this“. The way the fence looked was pure art. It was just a wall of beauty. It was an installation and it was extra beautiful not just because it was collaborative, not just because it was pretty to look at, but because it was helpful.
So how many scarves were there? I know that’s what everyone wants to know. This number is coming from the count I did with the scarves that were donated to me before I drove to the fence on Install Day, and the tallies my dad took down on his clipboard from people who checked in. If you didn’t check your scarves in and just put them straight up on the fence (and didn’t message me after the fact with your numbers), this number does not reflect that. So we’ll say that there were at least 2,118 scarves on that fence that day.
I ran a guessing game contest with “Price Is Right” rules (closest without going over), so even if I get a more accurate figure, the person who won the game based on the 2,118 figure is Linda S. and they’ll be receiving a prize in the mail from me to celebrate.
We also had 827 hats, 251 pairs of gloves, and a number more of coats, socks, ear warmers, and other accessories. So total in terms of winter gear, we’re looking at 3,196 donations for the 2nd Annual Scarf Abandonment Project. HOLY COW!
A little before 4:00, we cleaned everything up and packed up the boxes of scarves, hats, etc. and anything I didn’t think could be securely tied to the fence in the wind and took it to a shelter down the street.
Many people asked me what was going to happen to the scarves that weren’t taken down that day. My plan was to come back the next day at 11 AM and remove whatever was left from the fence and take it to a homeless shelter that Sunday afternoon. I estimated that at least a third of the scarves would still be there, but there were in fact three items left on the fence — one scarf, one hat, and one pair of baby mittens. I cleaned up the two dozen or so tags that had fallen off and onto the ground and took down my hot pink signs (leave no trace), and headed back home with a big smile on my cold cheeks.
People saw and provided photographic evidence of people “hoarding” the scarves later in the night and had a lot of feelings about it, including the concern that this could have been avoided if I would have done multiple locations for the fence this year. Here’s what I will say about that: This event went from 50 people interested on the Facebook group and 6 volunteers the actual day of the install to 5.5 thousand and over a hundred volunteers in one year. It was a lot for me to plan for and handle as one person without any funding, and I learned a lot and will be taking the next couple seasons to plan an even better event for our 3rd annual project which could very well include multiple locations. That said, this in nature is a guerrilla art project, and by definition once you do something on the streets you’re giving it to the streets, and releasing all expectation of what happens, the same way you do with a gift. We can’t control other people, we can only do good ourselves. <3 And please also remember how it felt to be outside for just that hour or two hours on Saturday and what it must be like to SLEEP/LIVE outside. If you saw free winter gear, would you really think twice about taking care of yourself, or would you think it was a miracle that you might be able to stay extra warm that night? There is always a better way to do something, including how I organize this event, but it’s important to maintain perspective.
I’ve had many people ask me how to do their own Scarf Abandonment event, so here’s some tips of things I’ve learned:
- You need to create boundaries and stick to them; the more people you deal with, the more people will try to bend rules and ask for exceptions which seem fine, especially if you’re a nice person and want to be accommodating, but every accommodation you make takes up time and possibly money from your life and if you don’t want to go crazy you have to be firm with the guidelines you create (and create them early)
- Contact businesses in your area and ask if they’d like to be drop off points for people to be able to come leave their donations during business hours (then you can do a mass pick up later on)
- Schedule in-person drop offs in public spaces in different parts of your city/county for people to be able to drop off their donations and circumvent mailing costs
- Contact the public places (like cafes) in advance so they’re not overwhelmed with how many people are bringing in donations and potentially not even buying coffee from them
- Have a person come with you to the cafe and be a runner back and forth to your car so the donations aren’t piling up on the floor
- Make a sign with the general details of the event that you can prop up against your table, and print out more detailed FAQ on paper that you can have out on your table top
- Make a Facebook Event Page and write a detailed FAQ post in the discussion section that you pin to the top of the page that you can refer people to (be as explicitly clear as possible)
- Have canned responses ready for e-mails/messages, because despite your FAQ, people are going to ask you the same questions you’ve answered a million times again and again and this will save you valuable time
- Have a firm deadline, and make it at least a week before the Install Day so you give yourself some breathing room
- Get permission from the owners of the fence you plan on using in advance
- List of ideas to write on tags
If you have any other specific questions, feel free to ask them below or e-mail me.
People have also asked me recently if it’s best to wait for a large event like this or to give little by little throughout the season, and the answer is you absolutely do not have to wait for an event like mine to give to those in need because they are in need year round. Here’s a post I put together of How To Make Supply Packages For The Homeless.
Thank you to EVERYONE who knitted, bought, or collected scarves, to drop off sites, tag-makers, volunteers on Install Day, media coverage, photographers, reporters, Joe, my dad, my mom, Erin, and too many more people to name. You all made this happen. I could not have done this alone. It was a group effort, and it was beautiful.
Yes, this will be happening again next year, and it will probably be even bigger. So feel free to start knitting now! And if you found me because of this event, this isn’t the only thing I do, so please follow along on Facebook, Instagram, and in my newsletter for updates on upcoming projects or free stuff you can be a part of. You can even become an Uncustomary Babe member for just $3 a month! I’ll see you next year. 😉