The Who, What, Why and HOW of Giving Socks
School fundraisers, Girl Scout Cookies, canned food drives, donating a vehicle. Most people enjoy giving and have contributed something to benefit a cause. That “something”, most times, is typically not socks. Socks for some reason have been reserved as gifts on birthdays or Father’s Day but are rarely thought of when it’s time to give to those that are in need who might not be able to afford them.
Which begs a couple of questions: how do we give socks? And not to wax too philosophical, but what kind of socks should we give?
The good thing is I’ve been giving socks to my neighbors who are experiencing homelessness for six years now. I’ve had the honor to share thousands of pairs of socks with folks in 5 states plus the District of Columbia (and that’s not including the SOCKS network of givers we’ve cultivated who have given nationally and internationally). In that time, I have definitely learned some lessons. Lessons I am happy to share.
First, the Why
Before jumping right into the logistics, lets chat about why we would even want to do give socks. Or, better yet, let’s begin with the why we shouldn’t want to do this.
We shouldn’t want to do this for Instagram likes or comments. Nor should we do it so we can capture a picture of our altruism at just the “right” moment. And while many of us are guilty of the occasional humble brag (*raises hand*), having content for said brag should not be a driver for participating in giving socks; or anything else for that matter. One reason being is that drivers that promote self and seek affirmation, praise, and admiration from others extinguish quickly and fail to convey the authenticity that our neighbors in homelessness need and deserve.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let’s talk about why we should make some time to give.
Homelessness is a silent epidemic. There is a huge need, much larger than statistics report. I don’t believe the numbers are intentionally skewed, its just nearly impossible to capture accurate data. Everyone experiencing homelessness isn’t living in the streets or shelters or the woods. Some are in their cars, or abandoned buildings or a friend’s house. Some are in a state of homelessness due to silent domestic violence situations unbeknownst to those around them and are forced to, or escape by, leaving their homes. It is unfortunate, but there are plenty of opportunities to give.
Shelters have limited space. Each day people are turned away from shelters due to capacity issues. Each day someone loses their home due to job loss, incapacity or both. Each day someone is released from prison with nowhere to go. Additionally, some displaced from their homes don’t feel safe in shelters, even if space is available. All of these factors and more create a need for street outreach. If we only donate to shelters, everyone will not have access to socks.
The majority of homeless experiences are not chronic. According to some estimates, 24% of the population of those experiencing homelessness are doing so chronically. This means that the remaining 76% are homeless for less than one year and are not dealing with serious mental illness, substance abuse or a physical disability. At SOCKS, we believe this is a huge opportunity to be a source of support, encouragement and training at a critical season in someone’s life. A little help (eg. Socks or skills training) at the right time can go a long way to keep someone healthy and encouraged to continue trying to pull themselves out of the situation. Think about it, if you suddenly lost your shelter and were only without a home for a few days, wouldn’t you be scared and frustrated? Wouldn’t it help in that moment to be uber impactful for you? Often just knowing someone else cares about you is enough motivation to care about yourself and keep striding.
Giving makes God happy. I’ve often heard it asked, ‘Why does God allow so much pain and sorrow in the world?’ Far be it for me to even suggest I have a complete answer to that question. But my personal theory is we all to some degree have the same purpose – to serve God by serving others. What that looks like will be different for everyone because we each have unique gifts and abilities we can use to make the world a better place. When there is lack in one place, there is abundance somewhere else. It’s up to us to be good allocators of the abundant resources we have here on the planet. Imagine for a moment if everyone was more focused on using their powers to give than to get. It would be a much different world. And God would be overjoyed watching us work diligently to take care of one another.
Giving feels great. I can’t speak for you, but giving makes me feel better. It helps put things in to perspective. Most of the time I don’t do it to feel better but when I do, it never fails. I love going out into the streets because I meet the nicest people there. They smile at me and pray for me, even protect me. It is refreshing and humbling to fellowship with people who have so little of what many take for granted, but have so much of what people don’t even know they lack – love, kindness and compassion.
Now, the How
Kendrick Lamar had it right, don’t kill the vibe. No matter how you choose to give, give with joy in your heart. People can feel your vibration. And at a moment when things are really dark, the people you are serving really need you to bring the light. We, as humans, are natural born connectors and it is innate in all of us to want connection and we have the valuable ability to discern whether that connection is positive or negative. So being positive and giving joyfully is truly a huge part of making direct outreach so special and impactful.
Okay, so your chi is on point, but what are you giving other than energy? Well, in this case socks of course, but where to get them? You can quickly go the direct route and purchase the socks from your favorite physical or virtual store. Or, you can start a SOCKS Box Drive and garner the support of your network to assist you with the endeavor.
Once you’ve got your hands on some socks, its time to get them to the people. Shelters are one way to handle the distribution. Some shelters will only allow you to drop the socks off, but some will allow you to set up in a small area and distribute. I’ve found the relationship you have with the staff at the shelter makes a big difference with respect to how you are permitted to distribute.
At SOCKS, our specialty is street outreach. We arrange groups of people to hit the streets and volunteer. If you’re in the Washington, DC area, you should join us.
Another effective way to give is by having a pack or two of socks in the car. If someone approaches the vehicle requesting a donation, you can share a pair of socks. Many briefcases and purses will accommodate at least one pair of socks. Stuff a pair in there and be ready to share if and when someone asks for change or a meal (and of course sharing change or buying a meal also isn’t a bad thing).
And Lastly, the What
Just about all socks are awesome, but all of them are definitely not created equal. Certain styles and fabric compositions are best suited for certain purposes.
Generally, when giving socks to individuals experiencing homelessness, and more specifically those who are unsheltered, thick, durable socks are essential. Men’s crew socks in either a wool or cotton blend are the preferred sock for those enduring the outdoor elements. Men’s socks tend to be thicker than women’s and therefore last longer and are more comfortable. With respect to color, everyone has their preference. Some people don’t care if the crew socks are black, white or grey. Others have strong preference towards black or white. But, in just about every case if you don’t have the color requested, the socks will still be greatly appreciated.
Brand new socks are definitely essential. Think about it: would you want a used sock? Socks tend to show all the wear and tear that they have experienced, so having an already used sock can not help with issues like moisture wick or a barrier to the elements because the fabric has already frayed or a thread is loose. Not saying that there is not potential for this to happen with a new sock but at least the wearer is able to have more longevity and don’t have to worry about where those used socks have been before they’ve traveled to their feet. The adage, though often used but has stood the test of time, “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you” can be applied to socks when you are giving them to our neighbors experiencing homelessness.