Sometimes a small personal project can have a big impact on a whole community. When a school bus driver from Erie County named Patricia Reitz, affectionately known as Miss Patty, was taking care of her ailing mother, she took to knitting to relieve some stress during her spare time. She was working on a hat while waiting for a group of high schoolers. Soon enough, a short interaction would change everything. “The one boy gets on the bus, and he goes ‘what are you doing?’ I said I’m making a hat. He said, ‘That would be great going down ski slopes at Holiday Valley.’ So I said, ‘What color would you like?’ That started everything,” Miss Patty recalled. Now, it’s several years later and she has knit 7,083 hats for the students that have ridden her bus over the years.
Reitz, who now drives children from kindergarten through fifth grade for the Clarence Central School District, specializes in Santa hats, but has crafted other types of headgear, too. She’s made potato sack-shaped hats crowned by two tassels and other pieces featuring a hole so there's room for a ponytail to poke out of it. When she has the chance, she asks the student to pick their favorite colors for the project. “It makes me feel great that I can give them something to wear because a lot of the kids don't have the Santa hats,” Reitz shares.
One of the most impressive facts about her knitted hats is that she buys all her supplies with her own money. Fortunately, she does receive some gift cards around the holidays to help with the expenses. Fittingly, this is precisely when students tend to proudly don their knitted Santa hats. “It just stands out because it's like knitted,” says fifth grader Wesley Kwiatek, who cherishes the Santa hat he got in kindergarten. “It's just knit in like a good way. You just can't lose it.”
On top of having a lovingly made accessory that will keep them warm throughout the colder months, the community also praises Miss Patty for being a trust pal to the students. “She cares about her students,” shares third grade teacher Deborah Bosworth. “Any student that I've had that has been on Miss Patty's bus gets a hat, and they also get a friend. Miss Patty is one of the favorites.”