Charitable Stop: Teen gives back to community

Ella Shively puts hats and gloves bin at bus stop

During the holiday season, there is no right or wrong answer when it comes to giving. But one La Crosse  teenager has found her own way to give back this year.

Ella Shively is a sophomore at Central High School in La Crosse and she enjoys show choir, jazz band and mountain biking. However, for more than a year something has been weighing on her mind. In fact, it’s the cold weather here in Wisconsin. So this holiday season, Ella has managed to help others stay warm without spending a dime.

Every week, thousands of people ride the bus in La Crosse and last year, 15-year-old Ella was one of them.

“I would ride the bus over to the Y a couple times a week,” said Ella.

Week after week of riding the city bus, Ella started to notice something.

“She would kind of look around and notice people don’t have hats and gloves and it was cold outside,” said Kim Shively, Ella’s mother.

“I was usually the only person who would be there with hats and gloves on,” said Ella.

With Wisconsin temps below freezing, the sight of people without the basic winter necessities bothered her.

“Just kind of unfair that I had all this stuff on. I was warm and everyone else wasn’t and I thought there was just a little injustice there,” said Ella.

It weighed on Ella’s mind so much that she finally decided to tell her mom about it.

“I was a little surprised by that, she had noticed that. It made me think how often am I walking around and I don’t notice that with people,” said Shively.

That’s when Ella and her mom decided to do something to help.

“I was just talking to my mom in the car, ‘oh what if this happened,’ and then it kind of went ‘why not?'” said Ella.

Ella and her mom came up with the idea to put a bin of hats and gloves outside at a bus stop.

“Right away we thought, well we didn’t feel like we could just leave something at the bus stop. We needed to connect with a department in the community,” said Shively.

“Ella approached us to ask about putting containers on buses and shelters with hats and gloves and from there we offered our lost and found items,” said Keith Lee, interim transit manager.

Now with more support from the city bus company, MTU, Ella put a recycling bin at one bus stop in the city and filled it with the lost and found items.

“It’s kind of like recycling back into the system,” said Ella.

“We try to get them back to their owners. We keep them for 30 days, then after the 30 days Ella picks them up, washes them and puts them in the containers,” said Lee.

It’s been three weeks since Ella and her mom put the first round of hats and mittens at the bus stop with a sign that encourages everyone to take what they need to stay warm.

“I expected it would take a month or so for it to get all used up and I went in there and everything was gone except one pair of gloves and I was not expecting that at all,” said Ella.

“You have this idea but you don’t know how it is going to be taken, so it’s real exciting to see that being used,” said Lee.

Now Ella is refilling the bin for a second time in hopes of helping even more people stay warm this year.

“I know I’ve started things before, I’ve had ideas but not finished them, and this was something I really felt like I should finish,” said Ella.

For high school student Ella, giving isn’t about how much money you donate or the gifts you give during the holiday season. It’s about warming the hearts and hands of others when they least expect it.

“I think it can kind of go to show that people actually care, even if it’s a small item like a pair of mittens or something,” said Ella.

Ella calls the bin with winter necessities the “Hat Library” because she likes to think of it as an exchange rather than just a handout. She hopes that people who benefit from the bin pay it forward and give back in the future.     

Ella also said she couldn’t have done it without the help of Sona Severson from MTU.

The bin is only at the bus stop right outside of Central High School, but Ella and her mom would like to see more throughout the city in the future.