At 8 a.m. on a cold, cloudy Saturday morning in downtown Tillsonburg, two women were quietly attaching scarves to railings, signs, poles, and trees.
Some of the scarves came with a message.
'This is yours to KEEP you warm. Take me Down and Take me Home.'
"It's to encourage people that maybe..." said Amanda Mueller, pausing as a man exited the Tillsonburg Town Centre on Broadway.
"Did you need a scarf?" she asked. "To keep warm?"
"I'm okay," he said.
Mueller and KathieLyn Ryan, members of a local Facebook group, had asked for scarf donations in the week leading up to Saturday's 'Scarf Bomb' after seeing results of similar projects in London and Guelph. Often called Chase the Chill, free scarves have been distributed in Ottawa and Toronto, Winnipeg and Regina, and many American cities.
"It's to encourage people that may not ask for help," Mueller continued. "So they can just grab it and keep warm."
There was a need to keep warm Saturday – temperatures dipped from -12 to -15 C.
"I watched the weather, and we've just started our fourth Cold Alert," said Ryan. "Tonight, it's going to be very cold!"
"That's the point of this, right?" said Mueller.
"This is perfect timing," Ryan nodded. "I think people will take them."
"I think so too," Mueller agreed. "Woodstock has one planned next week. So the scarves that aren't taken today will end up in Woodstock for their Scarf Bomb. Because we're all one community, right? We're all Oxford County."
Many local organizations, service clubs and companies collect hats, mittens and scarves in the months leading up to Christmas, which are distributed to those in need.
Mueller said their scarf project was different.
"Here, you don't have to ask for help. You just take it. There's no feeling the embarrassment of having to go to someone and say 'I need help.' It's just there."
By the end of the day all of the 50-plus scarves were claimed. Taken by someone in need, said Mueller who works at a homeless shelter in London.
"People have said their only concern is that they will be taken by people who don't need them. My response is... if they're taking them, they need them. You don't know someone's situation, so to judge them because you don't think they need it, isn't right."
Mueller shrugged off the critics.
"I can't take other people's negativity and let it bring me down. I still need to try. If I help one person, then...
"Help yourself to a scarf today Raymond," Mueller calls out to another man leaving the mall. "Keep warm bud."
"This isn't just about people who are homeless," said Ryan. "It's just to keep people warm."
Mueller is already developing ideas for next winter.
"Mittens," she smiled. "A free mitten tree somewhere."