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Meet Jen Ellis, the Teacher Who Made Bernie Sanders' Mittens

by Kevin Schattenkirk

EDGE Media Network Contributor

Tuesday January 26, 2021

Jen Ellis
Jen Ellis  (Source:Screenshot/WBZ)

You know those Bernie Sanders memes that became one of the breakout stars of President Biden's inauguration last week? Well, aside from Amanda Gorman, that is? It was that perfect moment of confluence: Photographer Brendan Smialowski capturing Senator Sanders, unknowingly holding what would become an iconic pose, crossing his arms like a cat with his big warm mittens on full display. Faster than a Republican decrying universal healthcare, the Bernie memes took off on social media. Everybody was feelin' the Bern.

But... who gave Senator Sanders those fabulous mittens?

Meet Jen Ellis, an out elementary school teacher who, along with her same-sex partner, is the parent of a five-year-old child. Ellis made the hand-woven wool mittens — which she calls "swittens" — for people who work at her daughter's preschool. Senator Sanders' daughter-in-law, Liza Driscoll, happens to be the preschool's owner and so Ellis gave her an extra pair to pass along to Bernie.

Ellis and family live in Essex Junction, just outside of Burlington, Vermont, where Sanders was mayor from 1981-1989. Teaching second grade and raising a five-year-old doesn't leave much time for making more "swittens," as Ellis told Jewish Insider, "Honestly, I don't really do it a lot anymore. I'm flattered that they want them, but there are lots of people on Etsy who sell them and hopefully people will get some business from them."

Despite having gifted the Senator her mittens, Ellis still hasn't met Bernie. "Someday, maybe he'll be walking down Church Street, and maybe I'll just come up and introduce myself and say hi." While she says she is a huge Sanders supporter, Ellis is also excited to have Kamala Harris as the nation's first female Vice President. "I've tried not to let all of the mitten business overshadow the gloriousness of sitting with my five-year-old daughter and my partner and watching the first woman be sworn in as Vice President. That's amazing."

Within two days of the Bernie memes reigning over the Internet, Sander began offering "Chairman Sanders" t-shirts and hoodies for sale on his official website, all to benefit charities such as Feeding Chittenden, Chill Foundation, and Vermont community action centers.

Kevin Schattenkirk is an ethnomusicologist and pop music aficionado.

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