Mason Crosby’s game-winning kick against the Dallas Cowboys on Jan. 15 set off an “unforgettable week” for Steven Arenzon.
A few months earlier, Crosby’s Green Bay Packers had a 4-6 record when quarterback Aaron Rodgers said what became much talked about around the state: “I feel like we can run the table,” Rodgers said.
They almost did. The Packers went on to win their last six regular-season games and make it to the playoffs, during which Crosby kicked a 51-yard field goal as time expired to beat the Cowboys 34-31 in the NFC divisional round.
That inspired Arenzon to produce “Run the Table” knit hats at his factory, Wisconsin Knitwear, Inc., located on the south side of Milwaukee. “We used them to capture the spirit of our football team and raise money for the Jewish Community Food Pantry,” Arenzon said.
“The next morning we started running these hats and just handing them out,” said Arenzon, known as the “Hat Man” around town. “We had requests from all over – from North Carolina to Afghanistan to Italy.” As the company gave the hats away, Arenzon suggested to recipients that they make donations to the Jewish Community Pantry. “We had such an incredible feeling that week; we were on such a high. I don’t think I slept the entire week. I’ll never forget it.”
Arenzon inherited his sense of giving from his parents, Mauricio and Sheila, who began the business in 1979.
Steven Arenzon’s entire family – wife, Robin; daughters, Naomi, 20, and Jordan, 14; and son, Scott, 18 – have been involved in the charitable arm of the company, which began Gift of Warmth in 1998. “We try to do it every year,” Arenzon said. “We’d drive around the neighborhood on cold days and see kids with nothing on their heads. It is aggravating to see kids outside freezing. So we started donating to local shelters and teamed up with local police officers. We’d donate to the police department a couple thousand hats at the beginning of winter and they would distribute them around the neighborhood.”
The company also is involved with the state’s Big Bundle Up campaign, which is in its sixth year giving warm clothing to those in need. In a recent three-year stretch, Wisconsin Knitwear provided 4,700 hats to Big Bundle Up, which were donated to the United Way of Greater Milwaukee.
The company’s hats are custom-made and shipped around the world. “I remember every hat we’ve made,” said Arenzon, whose company also donates scarves and headbands.
“What we donate is all first-quality stuff,” he said. “Years that we don’t have a lot of overruns, we still make the donations. Because it (donating) is something we want to do.”
The company also donates to organizations in which the three Arenzon children are involved. The three used their family’s giving to create b’nei mitzvah service projects.
“It’s a good experience for my kids, something we hope they take with them to whatever profession they get into,” said Arenzon, who keeps his car trunk full of hats when he’s on the road, and hands the hats out.
The company, one of the few knitting companies left in the country, also helped sponsor the 2015 JCC Milwaukee Maccabi Games.
Mauricio and Sheila Arenzon now live in Florida and have maintained their membership in Temple Menorah in Milwaukee. Wisconsin Knitwear is an extension of a sweater company originally started in Argentina by Mauricio’s father, Julius.
Mauricio is proud of his family’s giving, in keeping with Jewish values. “They help other people,” Mauricio said. “We’re very proud of them and Steven is very proud when he gives a donation.”
A friend once asked Mauricio, “Steven gives so many things away to charity, does he make any money?”
To which Steven replies: “I want my kids to learn that business is not all about just making money.”
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At a glance
What: Wisconsin Knitwear
Owner: Steven Arenzon (family includes wife Robin and three children: Naomi, Scott and Jordan; parents Mauricio and Sheila started the business)
Charitable work: Gift of Warmth, Big Bundle Up, Jewish Community Pantry, local shelters, 2015 JCC Milwaukee Maccabi Games
Mauricio’s business advice: Talk to people, be nice to people and don’t make promises you can’t keep.