JANESVILLE/NEW ORLEANS (WKOW) -- A tragedy for a Janesville couple 45 years ago inspires a movement across the world.
Ashley Chauvin is a teacher and mother who runs a popular Facebook group called ShowMeChauvin. It's a place to share ideas on crafting with nearly 20,000 members.
Chauvin started the group after the loss of her son, 6-month-old Jude, who died of brain cancer. "He was the love of my life and it was the hardest process I've ever been through," Ashley says.
It was through the Facebook group Ashley, from New Orleans, connected with Kristi Mansur of Janesville. Kristi and her husband Jim lost their baby girl, Melissa, in 1975.
"Back then life was a little different and so we didn't take the time to mourn or celebrate her life," Kristi says.
Ashley had an idea to help Kristi through her grief - 45 years later. She decided to knit a baby hat every night and asked others to do the same. They called it "Melissa On Your Mind" and for 45 days straight Ashley did a Facebook live on her page. They started on October 15 and ended on November 28, the day Melissa would have turned 45.
Kristi says, "We requested everyone to make a hat a day for 45 days and some people made 300 hats in 45 days."
"There was a friendly competition that started," Ashley says. "Someone said 'Well, I actually made three hats.' 'Well, I made five.' 'I made 10'..."
Nearly 3,000 people made hats - many sharing their own stories of loss.
"Everyone found healing, from their own miscarriage, from the loss of a son or daughter," Ashley says.
The hats were shipped to Ashley, some coming from Germany and Australia. She got anywhere from 50 to 75 boxes every day.
"I hoped we just got to 1,000 and I should have kept my mouth shut because we reached far beyond 1,000 hats!"
In all, 18,000 knitted baby hats. So far.
"Most people wrap presents at night, I count baby hats… tediously," Ashley says.
Kristi and her husband drove down to New Orleans to pick them up. They didn't expect what they found when they got there. They ended up renting a U-Haul truck to get the hats back to Wisconsin.
Kristi and Jim are now cleaning the hats and bagging them up with help from their Janesville church. Their three grown daughters - Melissa's younger sisters - are helping to find hospitals where they can donate the hats.
Kristi says they originally wanted to send the hats to the hospital where Melissa spent time in the NICU. But no hospital can take all 18,000 hats. So far, hospitals in Boston, New Orleans, New York, New Jersey, Atlanta, Florida and Wisconsin have taken donations of hats.
The Mansurs started a new Facebook group - Melissa On Your Mind - where those who get a hat can share their story with the person who made it. Each hat will have a QR code so they can track where it started and where it goes.
"It's helped us celebrate our daughter in ways that we didn't think was possible. So yeah, it's been really cool," Kristi says.