One

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.

sox-rox-box

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.”

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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?

  1. Helping people doesn’t have to be complicated.
  2. It makes people happy to help other people.
  3. Good things can happen with a good connector.
  4. Small problems aren’t small to the people who have them.
  5. People will join a determined movement.
  6. 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.
  7. 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.

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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 jwilberg2000@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

7 Steps to Organizing a Menstrual Supplies Drive for Homeless Women

Women who are homeless suffer a lot of indignities. One of them is being without tampons and pads when their periods occur. Put yourself in their place. How would you feel?

Homeless shelters do a tremendous job of providing a safe place to sleep and a warm meal but they often have to rely on what is donated to them. Funding sources don’t generally include a tampon and pad line item. And frankly, it just doesn’t occur to most people to donate menstrual supplies. Who wants to drive up to a shelter with a bag full of tampons when winter coats and mittens seem so much more essential?

If you’re somebody who thinks it’s important to help homeless women keep their dignity by having access to clean, safe menstrual supplies, then you should think about doing a tampon and pad donation drive in your town. Here’s my quick guidebook:

1. Talk to your local women’s shelter first. Connect with the executive director or volunteer coordinator and tell them what you want to do. This is important because when you solicit donations, you will want to say where the donations will be going. So having a shelter on board, basically saying that you can use their name in your asks, is essential. This gave donors confidence that their contribution would end up in the right place.

2. Give your effort a name and a look. I used “Time of the Month Club” for my campaign and asked a friend who is a graphic artist to give the Club a ‘look’. You can use anything but it needs to be smart and snappy. Jan’s Tampon Drive doesn’t do it. Time of the Month Club has some personality (it’s also copyrighted so you’ll have to find another name). You want that because you will be wearing out the airwaves with your pitches. See #3.

3. Fire up the social media engine. Before you do anything, you need to have a decent number of Facebook friends or other social media followers. If you’re a little weak on that front, partner with one or two other people who have a lot of followers. Then in terms of social media strategy: first, I messaged every female Facebook friend who I thought would possibly donate or organize a donation drive at her office. Second, I posted Facebook updates about the drive, not just asking people for donations but posting pictures of anyone who donated and tagging them to make sure the photo had the widest possible circulation.

4. Encourage group giving. One inspired person can inspire others if she thinks of it, like, ‘hey, wait, instead of just buying a couple of boxes of pads, I could get everybody in the office to buy a couple and then we’d have a big bag to donate!’ Talk to your friends and colleagues about hosting a drive at their place of work, church, or club. I bring them a box and flyers to help in their outreach. Promising to come back and pick up the box is key, though, so be prepared for some heavy lifting!

5. Make it easy to donate. I offered to drive anywhere to pick up a donation. I also had a box on my front porch labeled Time of the Month Club where people could leave donations night or day. Some people wanted to take their donations directly to the shelter. That’s fine but I encouraged people to bring them to me so I could keep a count, bag up donations in consistent amounts, and drop them off gradually so as not to swamp the shelter.

6. Thank donors A LOT. I thanked donors and am still trying to come up with ways to thank them. I’m not done yet on that front. I thanked them in person, via email, and on Facebook. Facebook was huge because it had the effect of reminding people of the donation drive but with a new face. Every time someone handed me a bag or a box, I’d ask to take their picture and ask if it was okay for me to post it. Most people said yes when I told them that other people would be inspired by seeing that they had donated.

7. Keep track. Time of the Month Club collects close to 50,000 tampons and pads over the course of a year. That’s a lot of misery and embarrassment avoided. In addition to keeping count, write down who donated, especially those who organized mini drives at their offices, book clubs or among their friends. This will be useful information if you decide to do a second drive.

Time of the Month Club is really about sisterhood. Maybe we haven’t all shared the experience of homelessness, but we have shared this: We are women. We menstruate. It needs to be dealt with in a way that allows us to carry on with life. If our homeless sisters don’t have what they need, those of us who are housed can ante up. It’s that simple really.

If you decide to do a drive, let me know. If you have questions, ask me. You can reach me via email at jwilberg2000@gmail.com.

Go forth. Collect. Have fun.