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This Baltimore woman convinced thousands of Americans to help her warm up her city


On a cobbled road in Baltimore that runs along the edge of a park, in the second house from the end of the street, lives Mary England.

On this Wednesday in December, England sat knitting in her living room. A Christmas tree stood to one side of the white couch, festooned with red-and-white paper chains; the red paper a more muted tone of the bright pink-red of England's hair.

And between England and the paper-chain-clad tree, there were piled hundreds of scarves.

Blue scarves, yellow scarves, knitted and silk scarves, piled like just-dried laundry on the couch and on the floor below.

Here and there, the fuzzy pom of a knitted hat - or the thumb of a purple canvas glove - sticks out from the heap, only hinting at the jumble's full contents.

"These are some of the scarves," England explained, heavily emphasizing "some."

"This is what fit in my car," she added with a grin.

England - and her scarves - are part of the Baltimore Scarf Abandonment project.

Now in its second year, the Scarf Abandonment was founded by England at a suggestion from one of her blog followers, and inspired by a small church in Portland. The church - England can't remember which one it was anymore - hung scarves on the fence outside their sanctuary for anyone in need.

So last year, inspired by that church, England knitted a couple scarves, bothered her friends to each give her a scarf, and posted a P.O. box address on Facebook so that anyone around the country could get involved. She received 300 scarves, from 50 different people. So this year she did it again. On the first day it was posted, her Facebook event received 100 shares. By print time, the event had over 5,400 people interested and over 800 "attending" - or committing to send or help distribute scarves.

During the second week of January, England and other volunteers will distribute the scarves at a park in Baltimore, a city that can see winter temperatures as low as 12 degrees Fahrenheit. Each scarf has a tag with a brief note of encouragement, with messages like "you are cared about" and "just because it's cold outside doesn't mean you have to be."

Many of the scarves are sent to England from Maryland, Washington D.C. and Virginia. But this year, she's already received some from as far away as California.

"I'm trying to catalog them and process them and write down the cities and the states I'm getting them from," England said, still knitting away at a teal scarf. "It's so cool."

The Scarf Abandonment fits with the mission of England's other venture - her blog. Uncustomary.org is a kaleidoscope of multicolored balloons, unicorns, rainbows, memes and exclamation points. There, England blogs about self love and creativity.

"I know what the dark side looks like very well," she writes on her blog. "I also know it’s possible to live a happy life not in spite of your struggles, but with them, and want to help as many people push through the dark tunnel to the other side where they’ll land on a pile of glitter."

And there is no shortage of glitter. Shuffling the pile around, England inadvertently uncovers a brown tag with sliver glittery writing. It reads "whoever is happy will make other happy too."

It seems appropriate for England.

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