Three years ago, Mark Gonzales wore a scarf to school that he had made for himself on a loom. It caught the attention of his fifth-grade teacher, Barbara Creed.

“She thought it was really cool,” said Mark, now a seventh-grader at Holy Family Catholic School in Woodbridge.

The two tossed ideas around and decided to have his classmates learn to knit scarves that they then donated to the Bill Mehr Drop-In Shelter, a facility that provides services to about 50 homeless people a day.

The project has turned into a classroom tradition.

On the Friday before Thanksgiving, Creed and her students from the previous year teach the current fifth-graders to knit on plastic looms. After the initial instruction, students are allowed to work on their scarves during free time. Some students even work on them at home. It’s a nice, quiet activity that doesn’t cut into instructional time, Creed said.

In the weeks after Thanksgiving, the students have made a colorful mountain of warm, wool scarves in varying shapes and sizes. No two scarves are alike.

Although the class emphatically agrees that the project is fun and for a good cause, a few students admit that knitting is not easy. Classmates Otto Fox and Jessica Bevelacqua said it has been frustrating at times.

“Once it gets longer, it’s easier,” Jessica said. “It makes you feel like a better person. It’s a good deed for the homeless.”

Creed said quite a few students have had to start over several times.

“The scarves teach the students perseverance and how to follow directions,” she said. “I’m proud of them. They have to work through all of the frustration of it.”

Leonardo Purpura was working on his first scarf in shades of brown. “It’s a great opportunity to help the homeless even though it’s a long process,” he said.

Madlin Edmonds, chairman of the Cooperative Council of Ministries, which oversees the shelter in partnership with Prince William County Social Services, said people at the shelter are often without family during the holidays.

“Therefore, the love that is shown through gifts such as these is critical to all of them who have no hope,” Edmonds said. “It gives them a sense of self-worth and helps them regain their dignity.”

The project has blossomed into a church community effort to provide gift boxes full of scarves, hats, socks and other essentials for the men and women at the homeless shelter. First- and second-grade students have made holiday cards. Members of the Knights of Columbus have donated items, including gloves, toiletries and gift cards. Students in the extended day program sort, assemble and wrap the boxes.

On Christmas, Judi Peacott, the school’s preschool director, will deliver the boxes to the shelter. Peacott and her family will also join two other church families to serve Christmas dinner at the shelter.

Fifth-grader Juliane Calvert was working on her fourth scarf. “It’s like a little Christmas present for them,” she said.

Edmonds said the scarf project demonstrates to the homeless that “there are those who really do love and care for them, and it warms their hearts.”