WOODBURY, Minn. (WCCO) — They are two Minnesota must haves: a winter hat and warm mittens. And now, one million more families have them.

As WCCO found out, it’s all because of a Minnetonka woman who was having a rough day 25 years ago.

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It all started on a cold November day in 1996, according to Rebecca Jorgenson Sundquist.

“It was a really tough time in my life,” Jorgenson Sundquist said.

She was in downtown Minneapolis for her divorce proceedings when she noticed a newly-immigrated family also having a hard time. They were in shorts and sandals and in the cold.

“It was transformational because it made me look up and it made me imagine what could I do to make a difference for them?” she said.

She did make a difference for them, and since then she’s made a difference for a million other children by starting Hats & Mittens. It’s a group that supplies schools and nonprofits with just that.

(credit: CBS)

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The group runs on volunteers, including an avid group of knitters. It’s all run a shoestring budget: no paid staff, a donated warehouse and no indoor heat.

“Yes, your dollar will go a long way with hats and mittens,” Jorgenson Sundquist said.

The need for those donations is up. But as their bins are emptying, their hearts are filling.

“My favorite thank you notes … come from immigrant kids, and they’ll say ‘Thank you for the red hat and mittens, this is my first winter in Minnesota, I am from Ethiopia,’ or ‘I am from Liberia,’” she said.

All because of a woman who took a cold, harsh day, and truly created something warm and fuzzy.

“It’s enriched my life beyond anything I’d ever could have imagined,” she said. “I’m the winner.”

If you want to help, you get one of their collection boxes to get donations. The big need now is for kids’ waterproof mittens. Just $2 will allow the group to get a kid a new pair to stay warm.

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Another big need now is for hats and mittens for teens who don’t have a stable place to live. Click here for more information on how to help.

Susan-Elizabeth Littlefield