I can’t change everything but I can change this one thing.
A homeless man comes in from the cold, takes off his leaking boots, and peels away the socks he’s been wearing for months. But he has no clean socks, so once he warms up, he puts the same torn, filthy socks back on his hurting feet.
But, wait! you say. This man’s problem isn’t his rotting, filthy socks. His problem is that he is homeless. I know that. But I also know I can’t change his homelessness but I can change his socks.
A homeless woman settles down for the night in an alley. She takes off her pants and her underwear and folds them neatly in a small pile. Then she sleeps upright, learning on an old brick building, her bare bottom on the concrete. She’s having her period and can’t risk bleeding through her only clothes.
She needs a place to live! you say. I know that. But I also know that I can’t give her a place to live but I can give her some tampons.
Oh, I work on the bigger picture. I study problems and advocate solutions. I look at trends and support big goals. I’ve been very involved in our community’s 10-Year Plan to End Homelessness but it eats at me that, while all of us are paid to sit around to talk about ending homelessness, someone right now is walking around without decent socks or making a blood stain on their pants that will embarrass and humiliate them all day long.
And I know that if I met a homeless person on the street and they asked me what I was doing to help them, I couldn’t answer that I was working on the 10-Year Plan without being disgusted with myself. Really? they would ask. That’s it? This issue is so important to you and what you do about it is go to meetings and revise Word documents? They wouldn’t say it but their look would: that’s BS.
I started Sox Rox first. It just occurred to me one morning, as I was putting on my socks, how much I loved a great pair of socks. Thick, really warm socks, nothing better when it’s cold and damp outside. I should collect socks for homeless people, I thought. And that afternoon, I started. Since starting in 2012, Sox Rox has collected more than 4,000 pairs of new socks for homeless men, women, and children.
Here are the things I didn’t do before I started Sox Rox:
- Ask anyone if it was a good idea. I knew it was a good idea.
- Ask for permission. It never occurred to me that anyone would be opposed to new socks for people who are homeless.
- Form a committee. I’d had enough of committees in my day job.
- Have a plan. My only plan was to hustle donations and distribute them.
- Make promises. No goals. However many pairs of socks I collected were more pairs than folks had.
Here are the things I did as Sox Rox was gearing up:
- Got the word out. Bless Facebook!
- Gave Sox Rox a look. Thank God for a wonderful artist friend.
- Asked people to help. Every day, everywhere, every venue.
- Loved and celebrated every single sock. Thanked and double-thanked donors. Took pictures and posted on Facebook.
- Kept count. Every sock. By type.
Time of the Month Club started a bit later. I was standing in the lobby of a women’s shelter when the volunteer receptionist said to me, “You know what really bothers me? When a woman comes in looking for a tampon and I don’t have any to give her.”
Thus was born Time of the Month Club.
Time of the Month Club collects feminine hygiene products for women who are homeless. The drive resonates with women, all of whom have been in the situation of needing supplies they don’t have. They remember the times they were caught short, when they bled through. They remember huddling in a stall in the ladies room folding up toilet paper to use as a substitute. They’ve been there. They can see themselves as the woman in the alley. They get it. And so they donate. Last year, we collected over 26,000 tampons and pads for homeless women. I see it as 26,000 times homeless women got to hang on to their dignity.
So what have I learned from all this?
- Helping people doesn’t have to be complicated.
- It makes people happy to help other people.
- Good things can happen with a good connector.
- Small problems aren’t small to the people who have them.
- People will join a determined movement.
- People are hurting in deep ways but things like socks and tampons/pads can send a message of caring that can be a balm on their wound.
- I can’t change everything but I can change this one thing.
Life is full of waiting. Waiting for more information. Waiting for people to agree. Waiting for a plan. Sometimes, waiting makes sense. Sometimes, it’s just an excuse. Taking action means exposing yourself. If you are all alone, if you are acting as ‘one,’ you are putting yourself out there. You could fail. Or not.
You could succeed.
Written for presentation to a college class addressing the topic of the ‘Leadership of One.” Sox Rox and Time of the Month Club are incorporated entities in the State of Wisconsin. For more information about Sox Rox or Time of the Month Club, contact Jan Wilberg at firstname.lastname@example.org.