Sanders hopes nation smitten by his mittens will back food charity push

Martin Pengelly in New York
·2 min read
<span>Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

Bernie Sanders is turning a meme based on the mittens he wore to Joe Biden’s inauguration into a money-making opportunity – to benefit programmes like Meals on Wheels in a time of spiralling food insecurity.

Related: Biden executive orders target federal minimum wage and food insecurity

At the US Capitol on Wednesday, the independent senator from Vermont was pictured wearing chunky knitted mittens, sitting cross-legged on a folding chair, socially distanced from other guests, hunched against the cold.

The image was soon spliced into a billion social media pictures and videos, the be-mittened democratic socialist appearing from Yalta to the ranks of the London Philharmonic Orchestra and the famous potters’ wheel scene in Ghost. In Wisconsin, one man even adapted a snow sculpture of the Lincoln Memorial, a pillar of American democracy, to depict Sanders and his mittens instead.

The Vermont second-grade teacher who made the mittens out of an old sweater and recycled plastic bottles and offered them on Etsy soon announced she had sold out.

“There’s no possible way I could make 6,000 pairs of mittens,” Jen Ellis told Jewish Insider, “and every time I go into my email, another several hundred people have emailed me. I hate to disappoint people, but the mittens, they’re one of a kind and they’re unique and, sometimes in this world, you just can’t get everything you want.”

On Sunday, a chuckling Sanders welcomed his mittens’ notoriety and described how he wanted to put it to work.

“Not only are we having fun,” the 79-year-old told CNN’s State of the Union, “what we’re doing here in Vermont, is we’re going to be selling around the country sweatshirts and T-shirts and all of the money that’s going to be raised, which I expect will be a couple of million dollars, will be going to programs like Meals on Wheels that feed low-income senior citizens.”

Food insecurity under the coronavirus pandemic has become a serious problem, among Biden’s targets in his first days as president.

“So,” Sanders added, “it turns out actually it’s a good thing, not only fun.”

On the senator’s website on Sunday morning, a $45 “Chairman Sanders” crewneck sweatshirt featuring the inauguration image was itself sold out.