Simple as socks: Soctober donation makes lasting impact

Two years ago, Jaxson Lewis was six years old and thinking hard about Christmas. His parents suggested that perhaps this year he should consider doing something nice for someone else. They started doing some research, and Jaxson found that Kid President, one of his favorite YouTube influencers, was participating in Socktober, a new donation event.

Socktober was created by Brad Montague in 2011, after realizing that there was a large homeless population in his area in need of socks. In fact, often the least donated items to homeless shelters are socks. He then set out on his first donation drive and started collecting socks to give out locally throughout October. Socktober was born and has dramatically grown since. Last year, participants on all seven continents donated socks.

Since then, kids and adults around the world have started their own sock drives to benefit homeless shelters and those in need. Reflecting on wanting to give back over the holiday season, Jaxson decided he wanted to start his own Socktober here in Midland.

Jaxon's second year of collecting socks for those in need was hugely successful.

“It’s when you try and get a lot of socks, and then you go to any donation place and give them away!” Jaxson says. The family started collecting socks in 2017, netting 1,428 pairs of socks and handed pairs out to local shelters.

The Lewis family decided to participate in Socktober again this year – and this time they upped the ante.

Bombas, a popular community-minded sock company that donates one pair of socks to homeless shelters for every pair bought, agreed to match Jaxson’s donated sock amount. If he could collect 2,000 pairs of brand new socks, Bombas would match them with another 2,000 pairs. That matching goal was reached, and with the socks sent by Bombas, Jaxson collected 5,683 total pairs for 2018.

The Lewis Family in their home after all the donations have gone out.

The Lewis family was able to accomplish this foot-warming feat by working with local partners. Businesses like Ayre/Rhinehart Realtors, DogHaven Ranch, the Midland Country Club, Blessed Sacrament, Saint Brigid, and Chestnut Hill Schools, Serendipity Road, Medilodge of Midland, 9 Round Royal Oak, The Dow Chemical Company, Midland County 911, Modern Realty Midland, and Century 21 Signature Realty all agreed to be collection sites for the socks.

“We had drop off locations in places we were affiliated with, and friends and family from places as far as Georgia, Hawaii, Seattle and San Francisco all donated to help Jaxson achieve his goals this year,” says Jaxson’s mother, Katie Lewis.

Jaxon and his brother proudly piled in the heap of socks donated.

When asked what the most challenging part of the Socktober project has been each year, Jaxson said that it was “The math. It was a lot of work adding everything up because we got so many.” When asked what his favorite part of Socktober was, “Collecting all of the socks, and putting them in a big pile and swimming in it!” says Jaxson.

“We got a LOT of mail. It was always socks, and he was really excited to get them each and every time,” Katie Lewis added. The socks were then donated to organizations like Shelterhouse, Midland’s Open Door, The Salvation Army and local schools with “caring closets” that act as a pantry for students in need.

Midland's Open Door was one of the recipients of Jaxon's efforts.

While Socktober has certainly filled needs at these organizations, there is always more that can be done. The holiday season brings not only heavier emotions, but additional needs that allow individuals to feel warm, accommodated and cared for. One of the organization that received donations of the socks collected was Shelterhouse of Midland and Gladwin Counties. Shelterhouse is the only shelter in the Midland area that specializes in providing emergency shelter, counseling and advocacy to victims and survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.

“Many of our residents come with nothing due to the nature of leaving a violent relationship. For this reason, we keep all sizes of new socks, underwear and pajamas in our shelter to give them,” says Ally Gasciewicz, prevention and outreach coordinator for Shelterhouse. “They are then able to go to our resale shop and select items at no cost to them.”

Ally Gasciewicz, prevention and outreach coordinator for Shelterhouse.

“We also often have needs for various household and pantry items. New residents often have a need for help with transportation costs, including gas cards. These needs are posted on our website and updated regularly. We post on our Facebook page when urgent special donation requests arise as well,” says Gasciewicz.

Homelessness is not a new issue to Midland. For over 40 years, Midland’s Open Door has served neighbors in need. With a men’s shelter, a women’s shelter, a clothing ministry and soup kitchen, the organization works tirelessly to make sure that those suffering from homelessness are cared for.

Popular sock brand Bombas matched Jaxon's donations.

Unfortunately, the need is greater in our community than what can be provided. “As of this moment we are completely full in both our men’s and women’s shelters. The need we have seen in the last three years is especially dire for single mothers and their children. For the past couple years we have only been able to meet 60 percent of the needs of homeless single mothers due to space constraints,” says Renee Pettinger, executive director of Midland’s Open Door.

Jaxson Lewis was able to donate at least two thousand pairs of socks to Midland’s Open Door, but there are many other needs that community members can help fill and provide for.

Socks are often the least-donated item to homeless shelters.

“Some of the hidden things we have a need for, and especially in the women’s shelter, is transportation. Our people use County Connection and Dial-a-Ride, as well as bicycles. We have a bike program where a group comes in and helps us repair bicycles, and a lot of our people use those bikes year round. People can always help with bus tickets, or donating their bikes to us. Often, we also need basics like wallets and backpacks. The people we help are usually on foot, and these things are simple, but a huge help,” says Pettinger.

Renee Pettinger, executive director of Midland’s Open Door.

Additional items that can be donated to the Open Door include paper towels, facial tissue, over-the-counter medications for colds and coughs, ibuprofen, and children’s versions of those medications as well. You can follow Midland’s Open Door on Facebook, and also go to www.midlandopendoor.org to find more information about where and what to donate. Volunteer needs include helping in the soup kitchen, as well as opportunities in shelters to help individuals with job applications and computer skills.

To donate, follow Midland’s Open Door on Facebook, and also go to midlandopendoor.org.

Donations are always a great way to give during the holidays, and while monetary funds are always welcome, there are many ways to get involved. Through volunteering your time, or collecting various needed items for local shelters like Jaxson Lewis, sharing with individuals in need can be a great way to help combat depression, anxiety and some of the more complicated emotions that come with winter and the holidays.

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