LAWRENCE — When Ashley Bolis was a fourth-grader at Our Lady of Mount Carmel School in Methuen, she started Project Warm & Fuzzy, an annual effort that provides less fortunate folks with new hats, mittens, gloves, scarves and socks during the winter.
Fifteen years and an estimated 50,000 articles of clothing later, Bolis' mission is still going strong. People at various churches in the area contribute "warm and fuzzy" garments, she noted.
Bolis then collects the mounds of hats, mittens and other items and brings them to Lazarus House, where the donations are given to the people who need them.
Bolis, 24, has grown up during the last decade and a half. She's on the verge of graduating from the University of Massachusetts Lowell with a degree in graphic design and was recently promoted to assistant manager at the North Andover Market Basket, where she has worked for the past 10 years.
Yet she still takes the time and effort every year to provide needy children and adults with warm things to wear during the winter.
"I'll probably keep doing it as long as I can," she said during a recent interview.
So how did it all start?
"Every year I clean out my closet," Bolis explained. During one of those clean-outs, she found a bunch of items that no longer fit her.
"I asked my mother, 'Can we donate these?'" she recalled. Her mother, Linda Bolis, suggested they bring the clothing to Lazarus House, the Lawrence nonprofit organization that provides people facing hard times with emergency shelter, clothing and food.
Bolis said it was "heartbreaking" to see children who did not have hats or mittens during the winter. She reached out to fellow members of Corpus Christi Parish and since then other churches have joined the cause.
They include St. Lucy and St. Monica in Methuen as well as Our Lady of Good Counsel and St. Augustine Chapel in Lawrence. The North Andover Senior Center and Moving On, a support group for widows, also contribute to the drive.
Other contributors are Bolis' fellow students at UMass Lowell and several home-bound women who knit and crochet hats, mittens and scarves.
"I just wanted to help out," she said when asked what motivated her to undertake such an immense task.
What has kept her doing it year after year, despite a very busy schedule? She works full-time and goes to school full-time, too.
"Just because I know I'm helping a lot of children," she said. Bolis estimated Project Warm & Fuzzy has distributed about 50,000 articles of clothing to people in need.
Helping others comes naturally to this hard-working young woman and her family. She, her mother and her grandmother, Josephine Dadducci, have often bought food and cooked meals for Lazarus House.
Donations can be left in a box near the entrance for the handicapped at Corpus Christi Parish at Holy Rosary Church, Union and Essex streets. Donations can also be left at the rectory.
The donated items must be new, Bolis said. Coats and jackets are not accepted. Donations will be accepted until Nov. 22.
Bolis will graduate from UMass Lowell in May, after which she plans to pursue a career as a graphic designer.