Eagle River business owner sews "Sack Shacks" to help homelessSubmitted: 03/21/2018
Lane Kimble
Lane Kimble
News Director

Eagle River business owner sews
EAGLE RIVER - You typically find cotton or denim running through her sewing machine, but Chris Gaffron has been sewing a lot of plastic lately.

"It's just straight stitching, so anyone can do it," Gaffron said.

The "StitchIt" custom embroidery store owner worked on sewing old plastic feed bags from a friend's horse barn, which don't biodegrade.  Gaffron and her friend talked about ways to make better use of the trash and came up with an idea to help the homeless.

"[My friend] was kind of thinking something to sit on, maybe put over their head and I said, 'Why don't we come up with something they can get into?'" Gaffron said.

Gaffron ultimately came up with the design for the "Sack Shack", which is essentially a waterproof sleeping bag made from six feed bags, which are washed. 

The Sack Shack can fit a person and even their dog. Gaffron and a group of volunteers sewed 11 in one day at her Eagle River store. It takes about two hours to assemble each one.  Gaffron does the work for free.

"Can you picture having to sleep outside now?" Gaffron said. "You know, now is not even that bad. Picture in the middle of winter. So, it's definitely a need."

Gaffron sent one of the Sack Shacks down to Chicago where she said it was pretty well received, but she'd like to focus on helping the homeless here in the Northwoods, particularly in Vilas County.

Northwoods Alliance for Temporary Housing Executive Director Tammy Modic told Newswatch 12 that about 70 people over the last seven years who came to stay at Frederick Place in Rhinelander spent the previous night sleeping in Vilas County. That's out of 626 individuals who came through Frederick Place since 2011.

Modic says, because of that, the Sack Shack might go to better use in bigger cities like Madison or Milwaukee (where more people end up sleeping on the streets), but she's happy the idea itself came from the Northwoods.

"It never surprises me when they come up with something like this," Vilas County Economic Development Corporation Project Manager Barry McLeane said.

Gaffron rents space in the VCEDC's "Eye on Entrepreneurs" building, where McLeane says creativity is encouraged. The building also features an artist, a studio, and a "computer geek" as McLeane describes it.

"[The business owners say] what do you think of this? What would you think of this? And then they work together to solve problems. It's just great," McLeane said.

Gaffron's next problem to solve will be making many more Sack Shacks. She'd like to make 70 for Vilas County and eventually get people to make them worldwide.

"When you're a sewer, crafter, you like to be able to use that craft to help other people and I love being able to pay it forward," Gaffron said.

Gaffron is working on an electronic template for people to download and make their own Sack Shacks. She plans to bring in Girl Scouts and the 4-H club to make the next round of sacks.

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MADISON (AP) - President Donald Trump is coming to central Wisconsin on Oct. 24 for a campaign rally.

Trump announced Wednesday that he will hold a rally at the Mosinee airport. Mosinee is just south of Wausau in a part of the state that went strong for Trump in 2016 as he won Wisconsin by less than 1 percentage point.

The announcement of the visit says Trump will talk about the need for voters to expand Republican majorities in the House and Senate. It specifically mentions supporting Republican Leah Vukmir who is running against Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin.

There is no mention of Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who is up for re-election against Democrat Tony Evers.

The trip will be Trump's first to the state since late June when he came for the groundbreaking of the Foxconn Technology Group factory.

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RHINELANDER - The Rhinelander Lions Club is asking you to donate your hides.

Donations will help raise funds for people with disabilities.

The club is looking to send them to Wisconsin Lions Camp, a camping experience for youth and adults with disadvantages.

"We have a set up out here by the pawn shop," said club member Tom O'Rourke.

The drop off location is available at the Hodag Gun and Loan (Pawn) shop until January. 

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CONOVER - The Landover ATV/UTV club expects to see plenty of riders on its trails in Vilas County this month.

Its trail boss says a lot of people like to see the fall colors.

It's been a good year for the club. Despite some wet stretches, it hasn't had to close the trails because of conditions.

"Some people like the water puddles and they like riding in them. Some people go out when it's wet. Some people go out when it's dry. Some people like both. Really, overall, the season this year was good," said Trail Boss Gary Lagueux Jr. "We were lucky this year. We really didn't have any unusable days."

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NORTHWOODS - Organizations from all over the country packaged and sent food to the hungry kids in the world for the last 10 years.

For the second year in a row, the Lac du Flambeau Lions Club will help out with Food for Kidz. On Saturday they would like volunteers to join them.

John Berg, one of the event coordinators, says it's a day filled with a lot of fun and hard work. 

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RHINELANDER - Students usually ask for candy or treats on Halloween. But a group of high school students are asking for cans this year.

Rhinelander High School's FBLA/DECA (a combination of two business-oriented national organizations joined into one club) group members are looking for non-perishable food items instead of sweets as part of a state-wide community service project.

The project started Wednesday with students stuffing 1,000 bags.

"We're going to be going into the neighborhoods and dropping off the thousand bags we stuffed today," said club vice president Carmen Ibarra. "We'll be hanging them on door handles. And then next Wednesday we'll go into town and knock on doors and pick up all the food items that people donated."

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HAZELHURST - The horrors of war rob us of many things: the comforts of home, the feeling of safety, and the closeness of family. War robbed John B. Cummings' family of all that for seven decades.

Saturday morning, Mark Hartzheim watched as his uncle's casket arrived at the Lakeside Garden of Sleep cemetery in Hazelhurst.  The site marked a final resting place after several other places far from home.

"He can now rest where he belongs," Hartzheim said.  "As long as we speak someone's name, they're not forgotten."

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WASHINGTON D.C. - Among all the veterans on the 34th Never Forgotten Honor Flight, one stood out from the rest.

"Everybody seems to come up to me and says 'Are you the only woman on the flight? Oh my gosh, it is you,'" said Leesa Roth. 

Roth is a bit of a rarity.

"You were either supposed to be a teacher or [a] stay at home mom," said Roth. 
But, during Vietnam, she chose a different path.

"Being the kind of rebel redhead I was, I decided… I can do anything guys can do. So, I joined the service," said Roth.

Roth served as an emergency room medic at a base in Massachusetts, but she says opportunities were pretty rare.

"Women were not respected in the military at all," said Roth. "We were not treated equally." 

Roth initially didn't feel proud of her service and signed up for the program in her husband's honor. He served in the Korean War, but died before he could go on a flight of his own. 

"My daughter said, 'No, Mom, it's for your honor,'" said Roth. "So in retrospect, I felt very comfortable doing this because I never thought of it that way. [Like] I should feel honored that I did do four years to serve my country." 

Despite being a self-described "strange entity" on the Honor Flight, Roth fit right in with her fellow veterans.

"It's an honor to do this and it's been very heartwarming," said Roth. 

It's also an experience she believes eventually more women will be able to take part in, now that they have more opportunity to stand out.

"If you're a woman you want to be a pilot in the Air Force, in the Navy, or go boots on the ground, you've got the opportunity," said Roth. "And thank God that has changed." 

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