How One Pair of Socks Led to a Movement That Helped 350,000 Homeless People

When a college student took the time to listen to a homeless man, she's started a revolution that even celebrities have supported.

shaking handsCourtesy Aliza fox
A few years ago, Adina Lichtman was handing out sandwiches on the streets of New York City to help people experiencing homelessness. One man, grateful for the sandwich, approached her and offered some surprising insight.

“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, when in reality, helping is about listening, and hearing the needs of different communities,” Lichtman said. “It was a powerful lesson, and I wanted to put it into action.”

wheeling boxesCourtesy Knock Knock Give a Sock
She began that night, with a simple step: going door-to-door on the floor of her dormatory at New York University, asking fellow classmates if they could each just donate just one pair of their own socks to someone experiencing homelessness.

She got 40 pairs of socks in a single night, from a single floor. The next morning she opened her door to find a huge pile of socks that other people had donated.

“College students love to do good, but sometimes they need a literal knock on their door to do so. And most everyone has an extra pair of socks they can donate,” Lichtman said. (Check out this story on lives changed thanks to the power of generosity.)

That morning officially kicked off Knock Knock, Give a Sock (KKGS), a new nonprofit organization that has now provided over 350,000 pairs of socks to the homeless in cities and states across America. It is also now Lichtman’s full-time job.

giving socksCourtesy Knock Knock Give a Sock
“While many people donate clothing, nine out of every 10 clothing donors have never donated socks. On top of that, people who are trying to donate socks often find it difficult to donate used socks,” she says. “KKGS is one of the only organizations that collects gently used socks. We have volunteers knocking on doors of their classmates in school, of their colleagues at work, and even of their neighbors. (Read about this 24-year-old who left a six-figure job to feed the homeless.)

Recently, Cash Warren, Jessica Alba’s husband, donated 250,000 pairs from his company Pair of Theives, which has helped Lichtman bring socks into city schools where students are living below the poverty rate.

Lichtman also hosts “Meet Your Neighbors Dinners” in an attempt to bring people who are experiencing homelessness together with their neighbors in order to encourage discussions and ultimately dissipate the stigma.

“I thought this would be such a great example of ways people can take action in small ways, especially the college age-Millennial set, and how it can grow to expand and become national,” she says.

carrying boxesCourtesy Knock Knock Give a Sock
To date, over 50 colleges and high schools across the U.S. have gotten involved over the years.

But, whether you’re 26 or 62, you don’t need to wait to organize your own sock drive, collect socks, or even wash and clean some of your own to donate to your local shelter, or someone in need who you meet on the street.

When it gets cold out, think about what you use to bundle up—scarves, hats, gloves—that includes socks and shoes, too.

Here are more heartwarming stories that celebrate the power of giving.

Helaina Hovitz is an editor, journalist, content strategist and author of the memoir After 9/11. She has written for The New York Times, Salon, Newsweek, Teen Vogue, Glamour, Forbes, Women’s Health, VICE, and many others.

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