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Friday, May 24, 2024
Hearty hands

Hearty Hands: An organization warming the hands and hearts of Madison’s homeless


Hearty Hands, a nonprofit organization run by University of Wisconsin-Madison students, aims to heat the hands and hearts of the homeless population around Madison. 

The organization began in 2018 by Meritt Schoenecker, who saw a need for winter supplies within the homeless population in the brutal cold of Wisconsin winters, according to Co-President Maggie Siepmann. She created the nonprofit to provide individuals experiencing homelessness with supplies to fulfill their basic needs.

The organization meets biweekly on Fridays at 3:30 p.m. at the bottom of Bascom Hill. From there, those in attendance walk along State Street offering hats, gloves, hand warmers and other winter gear to individuals experiencing homelessness.

Siepmann said Hearty Hands is meaningful to her because it helps provide necessities in the harsh winters to individuals who are often overlooked.

“The Wisconsin winters can be brutally cold, and the homeless population of Madison is in need of help outside of the services provided by homeless shelters or other organizations,” Siepmann said. “It is important the work that we do because many times this population is overlooked in the community.”

Co-President Calli Huskisson shared a similar sentiment. She said one of the most important aspects of the organization providing a consistent means of supplies to those experiencing homelessness.

“Hearty Hands is a way to connect with people in Madison, to make them feel seen and cared for,” Huskisson said. “[It is] more than handing out resources such as gloves, hand warmers, hats and granola bars to those on State Street. It is also the acknowledgment and appreciation for everyone we come in contact with.”

Huskisson joined Hearty Hands after spending multiple years volunteering in Milwaukee. Huskisson said she recognized there was a similar need in Madison, and wanted to make a difference in her community. 

Siepmann said she also joined Hearty Hands because she wanted to give back to her community.

“I believe everyone should feel seen and loved, and this is a way that I can do that for my community in Madison,” Huskisson said.

Huskisson said one of the most rewarding aspects of the organization is the people she interacts with. She said she made lasting relationships with some of the individuals on State Street who have shared their stories with her and added that the experiences she has heard and witnessed opened her eyes to systemic inequalities.

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“Working with the homeless population has allowed me to meet and interact with so many new people,” Huskisson said. “The people I have met on the street are some of the strongest people I know, and I commend the battle they fight every day. Working with Hearty Hands and other outreach organizations changed how I treat others and emphasized the importance of building trusting and loving relationships.”

According to Siepmann, the organization is very intentional about which supplies it provides. The group receives direct feedback from those they serve and aims to offer the products that are most relevant and necessary.

She also said Hearty Hands makes cold nights a little more bearable for people experiencing homelessness on State Street who are unable to make it into a homeless shelter. 

“We are very intentional about listening to the needs of the people we serve to provide relevant products that will meet some of their everyday needs, to the best of our ability,” Siepmann said. “Many homeless shelters have a limit on the number of nights spent below freezing in the shelter. The warm winter products that we provide aim to help the individuals who are within the community in the cold.”

Beyond providing warming supplies, Hearty Hands is a way for those experiencing homelessness to feel heard and share their stories, Huskisson said.

“They are real human beings and just like anyone, feeling loved and heard is so crucial,” Huskisson said. “Whether we are offering warming materials that might make their next few days a little bit easier, or offering an ear to listen, we hope both make a positive impact.”

Siepmann said one of the most rewarding aspects of the organization is witnessing expressions of gratitude from individuals receiving supplies.

“The looks on the faces of the individuals we provide warm weather supplies with is so amazing to see the work we do really matter,” Siepmann said. “The best is when people are so kind and grateful for something that most people take for granted, like a hat or mittens.”

According to Huskisson, Hearty Hands is looking into ways it can continue to give back during the summer months. The group plans to listen to the feedback they receive from individuals they speak with on State Street as they continue giving back to the homeless population in Madison.

The organization is open to anyone interested in serving Madison’s homeless. For more information on how to join, visit

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Ellie Bourdo

Ellie Bourdo is the features editor for The Daily Cardinal. Ellie previously served as associate news editor, where she specialized in breaking news and University of Wisconsin-System news reporting. She also works at WisPolitics. Follow Ellie on Twitter at @elliebourdo.

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