Thursday, April 30, 2015

Lost Hat Found

All is quiet when I walk in the front door of the city’s newest shelter and adoption center. The shelter’s founder, Aaron Blake, assures me that it’s less quiet in the back where volunteers are hard at work, and that I “should have been here earlier, a Little League Team dropped by.”
You can’t adopt a dog or cat here. You can’t pet a snake or watch a turtle have lunch. This isn’t a shelter for animals. It’s a shelter for hats.
Lost Hat Found was opened by Aaron Blake and his wife Sara two months ago after they inherited a great uncle’s hat collection. “I already had eight or nine of my own,” says Blake, “and he gave me twice that many.”
“More than you could ever wear yourself,” Sara adds. All the headgear was in good condition and had sentimental value, so the couple decided not to throw them away, or even to give them to Goodwill.
“We want them to be treasured,” says Blake, “just like we would treasure them ourselves.” They decided to open Lost Hat Found.
The Blakes don’t charge for hats. “This is an adoption center, not a store,” Blake informs some soon-to-be adopters. “We ask for a free will donation, just whatever you’d like to give us to help keep the lights on. The important thing is how you treat that hat you’re takin’ home.”
Sometimes Lost Hat Found gets donations of a different kind. “We had a lady walk in here the other day with about thirty hat boxes all loaded onto a wagon,” Blake says, stretching a hand up toward the ceiling. “All stacked up to here.” And what did they do with them? “A lot of them were real old. Sara’s got a friend at the historical society who took a bunch to put in a museum, but we’ve still got a few here.” A beautiful white and pink cylindrical hat box stands on the end of the counter, and Blake calls Sara out to try it on so I can see. It’s a little white circle with a matching short veil, called a fascinator, which Sara informs me would be the perfect “something old” for any bride’s wedding.
But cocktail hats are not usually what comes to mind when one thinks of unwanted headgear. “We got plenty of all kinds,” Blake says, and waves me behind the counter and into the back room, where Lost Hat Found’s volunteers are hard at work.
“First I wash everything,” Sara tells me as she shows me her work station, which consists of a washing machine, sink, and a table spread with lots of different kinds of brushes and stain removal products. “Not everything can just be thrown into the [washing] machine, but it’s gotta get clean somehow,” she says. Her current project is removing some glue from the side of a bowler hat. “The local high school drama club needs this for a costume, and I want to make sure it looks nice for them.”
Sara’s friend Kathy occupies a spot in front of a sewing machine. She shows me a recent acquisition: a very battered camouflage ball cap that she calls “Ol’ Larry.” “Somebody dropped Ol’ Larry off here yesterday. Said he found it in a ditch next to the stadium while he was out on a run. Probably it fell off a tailgater’s head on the way to the game or something, and it got run over a few times before it ended up in the ditch. Sara washed it, and now I’ll sew it up as best I can, maybe patch it if I need to.” She bends the brim of the hat and smiles. “This old thing’s still got some love left to give, and we’ll help make sure it gets the chance to give it.”
Ol' Larry, before Kathy started her work.
Blake’s cousin Steve keeps track of the shelter’s inventory. “I’m not really a… hat person,” he admits, “but Uncle Eli liked them and so does Aaron, and I guess a lot of other people do, too. The least I can do is to help out.”
Steve shows me several shelves full of ball caps ready for adoption. “Some of these looked pretty bad when they first showed up,” he says, “but Sara and Kathy work wonders.” Steve says they work especially hard when large amounts come in all at once. “A couple of weekends ago a guy dropped off like three garbage bags full of hats exactly like this one,” he says, as he holds out a dark blue ball cap with chartreuse and silver streaks. “This is usually the kind of thing that Little League teams are looking for when they come in. But sometimes the kids get carried away picking out their own hats, and the coaches go ahead and let them wear what they want. I heard one of them say that the kids were matching because none of their hats matched.”
You wouldn’t think there would be much demand for a place like Lost Hat Found, but Sara says that’s not true. “The first week we had a couple of kids in here looking for stuff for an Indiana Jones costume, so we let them have Aaron’s old fedora,” she recalls. “They told some of their friends and the next thing you know we’ve got all kinds of people calling, asking to be put on a waiting list for all sorts of different kinds of specialty hats, just in case we ever get them in. I’ve found forever homes for three different rainbow striped Cat in the Hat top hats.”
Even I found a hat to take home; Kathy finished up just as I was about to leave, and Ol’ Larry turned out to be just my size. Hopefully Lost Hat Found will continue to benefit the community and become what they have found for so many people: the perfect fit.

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