A group of three ‘mad hatters’ headed to Jefferson Elementary School on Jan. 23 to hand out hand-knitted hats to around 90 kindergarteners. The three women are part of a larger contingent of around 20 people from Welfare League Santa Rosa, a nonprofit that participates in various community service projects throughout the county. One of their programs, Mad Hatters, donates hats to people around the county.

This is the group’s third year bringing hats to Cloverdale — they were inspired to branch out to giving hats away at Jefferson when hatter Cathy Haynes knew her grandson would eventually be attending the school. Hatters Marilyn Meyers and Tricia Robinson, both Cloverdale residents, also thought it would be a good way to give back to the local community.

As a whole, the group makes around 2,000 hats per year, Meyers said.

“I probably make 50 a year,” she said. “I’ve only been delivering hats here for three years, but I’ve been a part of the group since 2009.”

In addition to giving out hats to local kindergartens, the group also delivers hats to cancer patients (some given out at a treatment facility in San Francisco), the homeless or to other groups that they feel may benefit from a free, hand-knitted hat.

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SAYING THANKS — A student from Leslie Palmieri’s class thanks Marilyn Meyers, Tricia Robinson and Cathy Haynes for giving her a hat.

Meyers said that by far, her favorite part about giving out the hats to schools is talking to the kids.

“They are such a fun little age group,” she said. “I like to ask them what their hat rules are and hear their comments. They’re just so open.”

As the hatters walked to the first kindergarten class of the morning, students at recess pointed to Meyers, Robinson and Haynes, and the bags they carried full of bright colored hats.

“I remember when you came to my class,” said one of the kids, pointing to the bags. “It’s actually hats (in there).”

As the women went into the first classroom of the morning to set up the hats on a table, students poked their heads in the classroom door, curious about the surprise to come.

“It’s the excitement,” Robinson said about her favorite part of the program. “They’re really cute when they get them, and it keeps them warm. A lot of kids don’t have hats, or they lose them. We have seen them from year to year — we come back and we see that they still have them.”

All of the hats are made out of washable yarn so they don’t shrink. They vary in color so that each kid can pick out a hat that suits them.

And, the hats seem to last.

According to Jefferson Principal Susan Yakich, kids in first or second grade can still be spotted around campus wearing the hats they were given when they were in kindergarten.

When it came time to give out the hats, the three women gave a brief presentation to each class.

“Do we get to keep them?” asked one of the students in Barbara Fayter’s class, looking over a table full of hats during the presentation.

Meyers asked the students what rules they have for wearing hats — Where are you allowed to wear them? Are you allowed to wear someone else’s hat? — and then gave a circular loom demonstration on how the hats are made. Haynes demonstrated how to wear the hat — the kids can wear it covering their ears, they can wear it flopping in the back, they can roll up the bottom so it’s closer to their head. Haynes told the class that they can’t, however, pull the front of the hat over their eyes. She demonstrated by pulling the hat over the front of her face, eliciting giggles from the students.

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“Yay! I kept my eyes on this one,” said Robert, a student in Fayter’s class, as he hurried to pick up a hat after his name was called.

As the students finished up picking their hats, they showed off their hats to each other, thanking the Mad Hatters for the gifts.

Once all of Fayter’s class had an opportunity to pick up a hat (with students choosing hats for absent students), the three Mad Hatters moved on to the next classroom.

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