It started as a birthday gift.
While home in Binghamton during the holidays, Jayne Knierim had told her mother, Betty Ruspantini, of how her third grade students at Springville Elementary School tended to forget their winter hats and gloves on days the class was supposed to play outside in the winter.
Ruspantini had a solution. To celebrate Knierim’s 50th birthday, she sent hat-mitten sets for each of the students in her class.
“It started out with just a simple birthday gift, the hat-mitten sets my mom would make,” Knierim said. “Then it spiraled into, ‘Let’s give it to all the third graders.’ Then that spiraled into ‘Let’s give them all to the kindergartners.’”
Eleven years later, Ruspantini — now 94 years old — has made roughly 2,200 sets of hats and mittens for kindergarteners and third graders in Springville, a well-known tradition Knierim calls “The Gift of Giving Project.”
“We have been doing this tradition since 2010,” said Knierim. “She absolutely just loves making them for the kids.”
Knierim uses the gift bags of hats that arrive each year as a way to teach her students the power of giving. But, she noted, the tradition has a lot of educational takeaways for them.
“It connects perfectly with our social studies cultural unit to teach kids about traditions. This is our classroom tradition,” she said. “There’s also a bunch of math involved. We talked about how many sets. We also calculated how many miles of yarn that she’s used. We also learned how to write ‘Thank you’ letters. There’s ELA, math, and social studies.”
She added, “It’s just a fun way to show them the gift of giving.”