Helping the Homeless through Socks

Adina Lichtman handing out socks to those in need
Adina Lichtman handing out socks to those in need. The heart she is holding is from the organization Good St also started by college students, that features people doing kind acts.

By Adina Lichtman

Let’s start with the basics: Why socks? To those of us who are fortunate enough not to be homeless, it’s a reasonable question. After all, we often see people asking for food, for money – but never for socks. But sometimes it’s the smallest things, the things we rarely take the time to think about, that can be most important. A few months ago, I was handing out sandwiches to people experiencing homelessness in NYC when one man approached me. “It’s great that you’re giving out sandwiches,” he said, “but one thing we really need is socks, especially as winter approaches.”

Here I was, sandwiches in hand, assuming I knew the best way to help people. In reality, helping is about listening, and hearing the needs of different communities. It was a powerful lesson, and I wanted to put it into action.

I began that night, with a simple step: I went door-to-door on my NYU dorm floor and knocked on everyone’s door. I asked if they would donate just one pair of their own socks to someone experiencing homelessness. To my surprise I got over 40 pairs of socks in a single night, from a single floor.

It started small, but I knew it was such a simple concept that it could easily be grown. College students love to do good, but sometimes they need a literal knock on their door to do so. And almost everyone has an extra pair of socks they can donate. That’s when the initiative Knock Knock, Give a Sock was created.

As a Rae Kushner Yeshiva High School graduate, I was constantly encouraged to put my ideas into action. Throughout my high school years there was always a strong emphasis on hesed and leadership that was woven into the school curriculum. Kushner was always filled with opportunities that allowed students to take on leadership roles in ways that would make a real impact on the world and made room for students to make a change. Whether it was creating a 3 on 3 basketball tournament for Yachad, or organizing a senior prom for senior citizens, I had always had a strong support system from the faculty to help mobilize my ideas into actions. Now, as college student it was my turn to mobilize these thoughts into actions all on my own! I knew it wouldn’t be easy, but if there is one thing I can say I learned throughout my Kushner education – it was that when there is an opportunity to make a change for the better, its not an option, its an obligation. As Jews, tikkun olam isn’t just a nice idea; it is our job and the essence of who we are. Here was an opportunity to warm the world as Jew; there was no question about it. This was just what had to be done.

In order to make Knock Knock Give A Sock work, I would get one representative on every NYU dorm floor to knock on the other doors on their floor. I made a small Facebook page for it, and suddenly friends from different universities started calling me, asking to bring KKGAS to their own college campus. The beauty of this initiative is the idea that people knock on doors, get to know their neighbors, and work with their own community to help others. Students get to meet their neighbors while meeting the needs of others.

Most people don’t know that socks are the most needed yet least donated article of clothing for those experiencing homelessness. And after speaking with dozens of college students I have seen that socks are also the easiest item to donate – a student may not have a lot of time or money, but they always have a drawer full of socks.

As for those who are experiencing homelessness, many of them wear four or five pairs of socks throughout the winter in order to stay warm. Ever since that night in November, I carry a bag of socks with me wherever I go during the winter season. I have even gotten a bit of a nickname from some of the people on street as the “Sock Fairy.” You wouldn’t believe how happy a pair of socks could make someone!

Univ. of Maryland students donating socks
Univ. of Maryland students donating socks

Knock Give A Sock has grown immensely since that first night. In a matter of five weeks, over 120 students in six different universities had committed to becoming floor representatives. Seven different Jewish high schools in the tri-state area are involved as well. There were five designated drop off areas across NYC, and by the end of the collection, we were able to donate almost 4,000 pairs of socks to the Bowery Mission. This all took just five weeks and required nothing more than word-of-mouth and a Facebook group.

In just one year we have collected over 20,000 pairs of socks. We already have one company, PlanetSox, pledging to match our donations and donate one pair for every pair socks our college and high school students collect in 2015.

So far this year we have over 20 universities nationwide participating in KKGAS as well as over 20 Jewish day schools. Most of our college reps have graduated from Jewish day schools in the tri-state. Post high school they can be found shining the values of tikkun olam on their college campuses. As people become busy with their own schedules, commitments and jobs, KKGAS is an important reminder for everyone to make time to meet their neighbors, and work together to help the world around them. And, our fellow neighbors can learn a lesson or two from college students… so next time you get a knock on your door, answer it with a pair of socks in hand.