The weather for President Joe Biden’s inauguration ceremony was blustery, with snow flurries and a wind chill making the temperature drop to near-freezing. But, never let it be said that a Vermonter like Senator Bernie Sanders doesn’t know how to dress for winter weather.
Along with Amanda Gorman’s stirring poem, Senator Sanders’ now-iconic mittens was one of the highlights of the day. Within 24 hours, the casual look had launched more memes than anyone could count and, like Elf on the Shelf, it was pretty much everywhere.
Bernie’s hunkered-down image—captured by the decorated photographer Brendan Smialowski—was soon Photoshopped into classic paintings like Edward Hopper’s ‘Nighthawks’ and Botticelli’s ‘Birth of Venus’. He’s been inserted into contemporary pop culture with winks and nods to Sex and the City, Twilight, Game of Thrones, and Where’s Waldo? He’s even been swapped into Sharon Stone’s infamous cross-legged hot seat pose from Basic Instinct.
Apart from injecting some much-needed humor onto our social feeds, Sanders’ sartorial tour-de-force injected some much needed cash into a few charities, thanks to the Senator, himself, who seized the moment.
He quickly added the image to a line of merchandise on his website—with all proceeds benefitting Vermont-based charities, including Meals on Wheels and senior citizen advocacy groups.
The sweatshirts, tees, and stickers sold out in less than 30 minutes. Additional supplies were similarly snapped up faster than you can say ‘Jack Frost.’ In all, Sanders reported raised around $1.8 million in the span of five days.
“We’re glad we can use my internet fame to help Vermonters in need,” Sanders said in a statement.
Jen Ellis, the Vermont elementary school teacher responsible for making the world’s most famous mittens from a repurposed sweater reported via social media that Sanders called to let her know “the mitten frenzy” had raised big bucks for a number of worthy causes.
Ellis, who was inundated with requests for the mittens, which she doesn’t have time to make, set up a new philanthropic website called Generosity Brings Joy. She will be collaborating with businesses to design and create “Bernie Mitten Themed” products to benefit charity, hoping the “joyful, high-quality” items make up some of the shortfalls of nonprofits during the pandemic.
Ellis wasn’t the only Bernie meme fan to use her crafty talents to raise money for charity. Tobey King, a woman from Corpus Christi Texas, put a crocheted Sanders doll she’d conceptualized up for sale on eBay to benefit Meals on Wheels—and raised an amazing amount. Listed at a modest opening price of 99 cents, 167 bids later, the “Bernie Mittens Crochet Doll” sold for a gobsmacking $20,300.
Meanwhile, the Portland, Oregon artist Mike Bennett has made a life-size cutout of Bernie in his now iconic pose for a charity auction. Through his creative genius, over $3,000 has been raised in donations for Meals on Wheels.
“This is the lesson life has taught me again and again,” said Jen Ellis, who had gifted the original mittens to Sanders. “If you give of yourself—not just material gifts, but your time, your goodwill, your kindness—you receive joy. It’s that simple. You don’t have to be rich to care; you just have to be human. We all have so many gifts, and the world is a better place when we share them.”