Hundreds of residents in need in Haldimand-Norfolk will have a warmer winter thanks to a charity sock drive spearheaded by a group of Grade 7 girls from Port Dover.
Natalie Suprun and her fellow Lakewood Leaders wanted to collect as many pairs of socks as there are students at Lakewood Elementary, a Port Dover school with a student body of about 530.
Instead, over five frenzied days, students from all grades donated 1,021 pairs of clean, unused socks of all shapes, colours and sizes to be donated to local social service agencies.
“So we doubled (our goal),” said Suprun, who was researching projects for the school’s leadership team to take on and came upon Socktober, an international effort that collects socks for the homeless.
“I saw a quote that said socks are the most needed but least donated item,” Suprun said, adding that the sock drive opened students’ eyes to the local reality of homelessness.
“A lot of people don’t know that there are homeless people in Port Dover,” she said. “Homelessness in Port Dover doesn’t look like it does in the city.”
In rural areas, Suprun explained, people without stable housing will often sleep in the trails during the summer and then couch surf from house to house during the colder months. Some homeless people wear multiple layers of socks because they don’t have adequate shoes, she added.
The donated socks — students’ generosity aided, Suprun noted, by a conveniently timed sale on socks at the local Len’s Mill Store — will be delivered to Port Dover’s Lifeline Food Bank, the St. Vincent de Paul Society and the Haldimand-Norfolk Emergency Housing Program run out of the Salvation Army in Dunnville.
“It’s perfect timing, because one thing we don’t see a lot of is undergarments. We’re always in need of socks and underwear,” said David Mole, a housing support worker with the Salvation Army.
“Some people are living in those garments constantly,” he added. “To have brand new socks is a great gift. These socks will be put into action right away.”
Participating in Socktober has broadened students’ understanding of the need in their community.
“They realized that it’s not just people in big cities who need things,” said leadership team member Shannon Skinner.
“You might say, ‘I have socks,’ and you don’t realize that people need them,” Grace Mummery added.
“And they’re warm, too — to keep your feet from infections,” Lily Cathcart noted.
Mole said the donated socks would provide “a moment of hope” for people living in dire straits in Haldimand-Norfolk, as well as an emotional boost to the front-line workers who contend with difficult stories day after day.
“You might think that (a pair of socks) is not important, but it’s absolutely critical to people (in need),” he said.
Mole knows of homeless people who camp in the woods, couch surf or end up sleeping in cars, the beds of pickup trucks, stairwells or bank ATM lobbies.
“These are all things that seem invisible,” but in fact, chronic homelessness is on the rise in both counties, he said.
“So to hear what Natalie and this group of girls has done, it’s unbelievably inspiring and refreshing. Because we’re not just going to take the socks to our clients, but we’re also taking the stories,” Mole said.
“I know that it will trigger more positive action. People will say, ‘Look at what these Grade 7s are doing. What can I do?’”
As they packed up the socks for delivery, the Lakewood Leaders team took a moment to reflect and look ahead.
“It’s always nice to feel that feeling of ‘now I’ve helped somebody.’ It makes my day better,” Cathcart said.
“It makes you feel good,” Abby Morton agreed. “I think we should do more things like this year. There’s so many things we can do to help the community.”
According to Suprun, finding more charitable projects for the young leaders to tackle won’t be a problem.
“I have a huge list,” she said.