'Mitten angel' warms community with donations
Loretta Hall, 85, has sewn roughly 20,000 pairs of fleece mittens over the years as part of a local missions group.
SUPERIOR — Over the past 15 years, Loretta Hall has warmed thousands of people with her volunteerism — 20,000 and counting, according to her records.
In legal pads and on scratch paper, the ongoing story of her mission work adds up. The numbers keep track of the thousands of pairs of fleece mittens the Superior woman has sewn as part of the missions group at Zion Lutheran Church. Hall has also crocheted 380 hats, but mitten work is where she really shines.
“It’s pretty amazing, because I know how long they take to make,” said fellow mitten sewer Kay Warner.
"This is quite an accomplishment. Something that I could never even comprehend” said missions group treasurer Aine Merrill.
Sunnie Lamppa, who founded the group in the early 2000s, called Hall a “mitten angel.”
From the beginning, the Zion Missions Group has welcomed men and women from all denominations. Hall, for example, is a member of Dewey-Borea Gospel Tabernacle. They gathered to help the community together. They sewed mittens, quilts and diapers, started a National Night Out event, put on concerts for the food shelf, served free meals to the homeless, visited the elderly, held fundraisers for those in need and much more.
“The group was very active,” Merrill said.
“It was beautiful,” Hall said. “We just had such a good time.”
fleece and other material for the mittens were donated to the group. Members would cut out the pieces during weekly meetings at the church, and Hall took them home to sew.
“I’m a creative person,” said Hall, 85, and “I like to do things for people. I’m a people person."
Hall said she initially sewed about 1,000 pairs of mittens a month with her Viking sewing machine, working from 5 a.m. until late at night.
The mittens have been given away at schools, shelters, head start centers, the National Guard, radio stations, Project Reach Out and food pantries. Hall kept different sizes of mittens in the car to hand out to people she met when she still drove.
“I see somebody walking, didn’t have any mittens, I’d give them to 'em,” Hall said.
Her work has traveled the world inside Operation Christmas boxes; she’s handed out mittens along with Halloween candy to trick-or-treaters.
“Just about everybody you can think of, I gave to,” Hall said.
The Zion Missions Group hasn't met together since the COVID-19 pandemic hit. That hasn’t stopped the mitten angel. In 2022 Hall made 633 pairs of mittens, which were cut out by current missions leader Tanya Nelson, and Warner made 250.
"This group is so faithful," said Lamppa, who now lives in Florida.
On Wednesday, Feb. 1, Hall and Warner dropped off more mittens. A few pair immediately found their way into the church’s food pantry box, which has been providing food, hygiene supplies and other necessities to the community since 2019.
“These ladies are working behind the scenes, and so it’s been a big honor to be part of that,” Merrill said.
The sheer number of mittens Hall has made is quite an accomplishment, she said.
“I thought, 'We’ve got to honor Loretta somehow. Should I call the mayor, could we have a Loretta Hall day?'” Warner said.
Decades of giving
Long before she was the mitten angel, Hall was giving back.
“Her heart for volunteering and helping the community is phenomenal,” Lamppa said. “She just doesn’t stop.”
In 1998, Hall began working as a volunteer at the Twin Ports VA Clinic in Superior. In addition to working in the file room, she drove veterans to and from Minneapolis on Tuesdays and Fridays in a 15-passenger van. During her 10 years with the clinic, she put more than 100,000 miles on the vehicle.
When National Bank of Commerce launched Nutrition On Weekends, a backpack program to provide food to homeless children over the weekend, Hall stepped up to help.
“They had an ad in the paper about feeding children for the weekend, so I picked the paper up, went over there, and she hired me right away,” the 85-year-old said.
She continued packing food for children as the program outgrew two spaces, until it moved over to Second Harvest Northern Lakes Food Bank in Duluth.
Hall served as the leader of the Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary for 20 years and volunteered at the Coffee Nook at St. Mary’s Hospital.
Lamppa said she doesn't know where the Hall finds her energy.
"She's not a woman of huge means," Lamppa said. "But she gives what she has. I think it's her time that's so valuable that she gives. And she doesn't quit."
Why does she continue to sew mittens?
“Because I know when these mittens go out, children have warm hands,” Hall said.
They are well received and last a long time, Warner said.
“It’s fun to bring them and drop them off," Warner said. "People are so happy."
This year, for the first time, Hall kept a pair of her mittens. She put them on for a pictures.
“Oh, I love them,” Hall said.
Return of the missions group?
The women said they miss the fun of meeting together every week.
“When we quit coming, ... I felt kind of lost because I was so used to coming out on Tuesday nights and being with a lot of lovely ladies," Hall said.
"We would like to bring it back if we could get some people," Merrill said. "So if there’s people who are interested, contact the church. We could start again."
To learn more about the Zion Missions Group, to donate fleece or to volunteer, call 715-398-3663, email email@example.com or stop by the church at 2022 E. Second St. from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Monday through Thursday.