Punks need socks in Indiana

D. T. Friedman of the nonprofit OxenFree in Indiana writes:
I’m the Resource Coordinator for a non-profit organization that works with homeless and indigent teenagers, as well as teens who are in bad home situations. OxenFree is a really fantastic program that engages at-risk teens through punk rock music, and provides support in a drug-free and alcohol-free environment.

The reason I’m invading blogs today? My job with OxenFree is to receive requests from the phenomenal people who run the program, and to figure out a way to fill them. My current assignment is…SOCKS. And I have to admit, I’m a bit at a loss. Socks are not a large-volume item at clothing centers (people usually just wear them out instead of donating them), and they’re surprisingly expensive. Homeless teenagers, especially hitchhikers, go through socks like you wouldn’t believe. My friend Margie can no longer afford to keep stocking her “free socks” drawer by herself, and asked me if I could try working my magic.

So, would you be willing to help me sock my punks?

Help with sock donations (Thanks, Mary!)


  1. having worked with the homeless in San Francisco, feet are the first things to go when somebody goes on the streets. Being homeless is hard on the whole body but feet are the “canary in the coal-mine.” I was going to elaborate further but I really don’t think its necessary to gross people out. Clean socks are very important and something people take for granted..

  2. @2 wrote:

    > tube socks $1.99 at Wal-Mart. (Free if you use the five finger discount.)

    Or 20 minutes of labor of you work at minimum wage.

    Cry me no tears, and defend me no theft when we’re talking about something that’s so cheap that ANYONE who cares to get off their butt can afford.

  3. Anaxaforminges has it totally right – if you want to make an extremely useful gift which will be received with delight to any nonprofit who works with the homeless, drop off a box of socks.. Remember this post when you’re trying to think of something socially-conscious to do this Christmas / Channukah / whatever.

    It’s also a useful test of whether your local service agency is doing good in the world – if they don’t receive it with delight, they don’t *really* work with the homeless in a meaningful way.

  4. As a knitter and someone who lives in Indiana maybe there are other ways to look at this issue?

    In addition to enlisting people to donate socks, you could also try working with sock knitters in Indiana and the surrounding areas.
    Either they make socks (that are better quality, better able to be cherished because they are handmade, and more likely to be darned and fixed thus making them survive longer) and donate to the kids, or sell the donated handmade socks and take the money made and use it to buy supplies in bulk.

    Sock knitting is addictive and usually fast.

    There are a lot of Stitch and Sits out there, and I’m sure a lot would love to have a nonprofit group to work with.

  5. Darn them.

    I mean, the socks. Darn the socks. Find darning needles that have big eyes at the grocery store. Use embroidery yarn, thinner gauge knitting yarn, or unravel a “sacrifice” sock and make a ball of yarn out of its fibers. Mend holes using that classic crosshatch method, akin to rug re-weaving. Use a darning egg if you want to get absolutely old-school about it. I even used to use a hard-boiled egg, slipped inside the holey sock, to hold it in shape while I mended the hole. Then I ate it. The egg. Not the sock. Or the hole.

    What does darning teach? Learn to mend. Slow down and focus. Don’t throw away something that you have the power to fix. Take some time off your busy-ness and sit still. Be self-sufficient and frugal. Appreciate the energy and life that went into the making of that sock.

    And yes, I do mend my own socks. It’s way easier than knitting new ones. But hey, teaching people to knit their own socks has its own “teach a man to fish” appeal too. Might turn a few of them into entrepreneurs. Uh, after someone donates yarn to OxenFree. Hmmm…

    Second option: join your local FreeCycle group and post a “wanted: socks” to the list. A beautiful process involving no repeat no money (worldwide http://www.freecycle.org/) and in Indianapolis with 15380 active members:

    Good luck.

    1. Mend holes using that classic crosshatch method, akin to rug re-weaving.

      How do you get the repair to stick to the sock without everything unraveling?

  6. I have been a wandering homeless hitchhiker myself, and “Freshies” are one of the best gifts to give or receive amongst the street crew. Boot rot and several severe fungal problems are pretty common, and terrible uncomfortable. I personally recommend wool socks, as they keep you warm when wet and are tougher and last longer than cotton socks.

    Also, with a bottle of rubbing alcohol, an empty tin can, and a sock you can create a personal stove for warmth or cooking. Simply douse the sock in alcohol, put it in the can tightly, and light it.

  7. I can relate, my socks wear out faster than I can donate them once I get sick of ’em. McLemly has the right idea.

  8. @TJIC

    I am not even going to begin to list the hundreds of reasons why people can’t work that does not involve them being lazy. That is so ignorant I can’t even imagine. The thing that you might not know is that most homeless people, sleep in their shoes and socks, even in shelters. They cannot afford to have them stolen or have to put them on to make a quick get away in case of danger. I challenge you to not take off your shoes or socks for three days and see how quickly you start to smell horrible. Your feet start to rot and the majority of smells that you smell on homeless people is caused by this.

    I have had several homeless friends and they are constantly having things stolen from them or destroyed or lost all the time. So even if the bought multiple pairs of socks at a time it would be hard for them to keep them for long. It is not very easy for a homeless person who smells of rotting feet to walk into a wall mart and buy anything even if they have the money. And they don’t sell socks at liquor stores.

    Plus, the kids who are involved in this program are trying to get help, they are trying to stay drug/booze free. They need help. Have some compassion.

    Mens: http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=9224457 (10 pairs, 5 dollars)
    Womens: http://www.walmart.com/catalog/product.do?product_id=8717401 (12 pairs, 12 dollars)

    I donated 50 pairs.

  9. I hate to whip the whole experience card out (yanks out her wallet), but sometimes it ain’t about ‘why don’t they get a job.’ Some of these kids are running away from the kind of abuse nice people don’t even have nightmares about, and they have to be helped to take care of themselves because no one has ever taught them they were worth anything.

    And it can take years (many grueling years of picking yourself up while your fellow human beings sneer at you and tell you to get a job or to get over it or to just act normal) to learn simple habits like going to work and getting up in the morning and not doing self-destructive things because that’s all you know and that’s all you’ve been taught you were good for.

    Put your money where your mouth is, TJIC, or your time. Go see what it’s like out there. Donate something.

    I just did and I have zilch for cash.

  10. Thank you for your well-stated comments MouthyB.

    I just sent a pack of 12 socks. More than socks though what’s needed is an online presence to establish some credibility which will, in turn, make people feel more comfortable about making a donation. I’d like a chance to speak with D.T. to get a feel for how serious OxenFree is. If I get the good feeling I’m looking for I’ll donate a website and hosting. What’s one more website for a charitable cause?

  11. Hurray! This program will even take mismatched socks, which currently fill several laundry baskets in my house.

  12. You know, if you’re accepting donations of clean, used socks, you might get a lot of traction on this if you request donations of unmatched socks. I’ve always had at least 3 or 4 unmatched socks in my drawer. With the cheap dyes used nowadays I think I have about 10. It would be a lot easier for an organization to construct (near) matching pairs from a wide selection of socks that can’t be matched by their original owner.

  13. I’m with garyinmiami…

    …it would be great if they had an online presence.

    DT mentions starting similar programs in other cities.

    Is there anyone in this list of comments that could point us to a resource listing even more organizations like this?

    I shed material items regularly and usually drop my stuff at goodwill or salvaton army, but they’ve been a little to picky about taking certain items lately.

    I’m ready to switch my roster of charitable recipients.


  14. @ #13 Hi Antinous, and thanks for asking.

    How to darn or mend a sock:

    I realize that the people OxenFree serves are living very difficult lives, and I do feel for them. I hope they have at least a little time at OxenFree’s shelter to catch their breath, get fed, showered, etc. Mending can be relaxing, I find.

    If it weren’t for the fact that I haven’t bought new socks for my husband or myself in several years (we’re making do with what we have and just buying new for our growing kid), I’d pull some from our own sock drawers this moment. I’ll post a wanted on our FreeCycle here and see what happens.

  15. I have socks like those in my drawers. hah.

    I understand these kids have issues, but in a true Do It Yourself fashion, they should be encouraged to learn to darn/mend their socks, instead of juts receive new socks.
    I understand people wanting to help, but “asistencialism” (sorry, don’t know the English term) is a double-edge weapon… the “teach a man to fish” spirit is always better…

    Anyway, when it comes to homeless people, I would keep in mind the idea of fresh socks as a good gift/help for them.

    Thanks for bringing groups like this (and FreeCycle) to attention.

  16. I’m a little surprised us to donate actual, physical socks and not money to buy socks. Usually money is better than items when it comes to non-profits helping the homeless because of the flexibility it affords them. Plus items need to be stored, sorted, doled out…whereas money can just be kept in the bank until needed. I’ll be interested in finding out if this is successful.

    As for “donating to a similar program in your own city”, they probably would appreciate money over socks. In Seattle, FASC runs a day shelter downtown where the homeless can drop in and get coffee, talk to a counselor and pick up some clean socks (and do laundry). A lot of times it’s the “simple” things that most of us take for granted that will get a person to engage with human services programs that will set them on the path to getting off the streets.

    As much as I love the work the EFF, Childs Play and other nerd-friendly non-profits do, there’s something really basic about helping the homeless. Living on the streets is hard on the body and the mind, but it’s also hard on our society. Allowing homelessness lessens our humanity.

  17. I so love easy clichés : “Better teach a man to fish yada yada yada.” Let me contribute : “Don’t juge before walking a mile in those kids non-socks, living their lives, feeling what they feel, remembering what they can’t forget…”
    I just can’t remember where I read that saying.


  18. Thank you, Takuan. I never ran into anything like this while I was out there, and it’s exciting for me to see all these programs for homeless kids, let alone programs that allow those kids to have hobbies and treat them like people, not burdens on the system.

    Consider yourself hugged, though it’s a bit hard to hug someone over tha tubes.

  19. sidebar: “Oxenfree” is an apt name for such, kudos.
    I know of the variant “Olson free”, any others out there?

  20. Alibaba.com and a good paypal donation scheme could probably yeild a few cases of socks from chinaland. I know I’d donate a few bucks for something like that. Socks are important… they make feet cozy and less stinky, punks could use some cozyness and lack of stink…

  21. I just have to chime in and agree with #23: IamInnocent.

    I’m an upstanding citizen now and I buy my own damn socks but there was a time when I walked those miles and asking someone to “get off their butt” is just friggin cruel. They are there because they can’t do just that. Help does not consist of kicking at someone who is down already.

    Someone is down because options are out and done. You don’t need to kick the crap out of someone who’s already had the crap kicked out of him/her so that they know that they are down and out.

    Imagine that you had a broken leg and someone came along and called you a lazy-ass for not walking.

    I know just how bad things can hurt and physical comfort goes a long way toward healing and walking upright.

    Yeah, well, disemvowel me.

  22. Or 20 minutes of labor of you work at minimum wage.

    Unfortunately, rarely is our current market so finely granulated. Working “odd jobs” still requires a major investment in social capital / networking, and I’m guessing that the people who need these socks fall below the threshold that ManPower would accept into their network. Realistically, you’d be more likely to beg for the $2 for tube socks, but then you still have the transaction cost of getting to Walmart to actually exchange $2 for tube socks.

    Transaction costs have multiple consequences, one of which is that most people still work in firm rather than directly P2P, but another is that, even watching a documentary such as Dark Days, you can observe how people want to work to earn a living, such as they do by collecting cans for the recycling credit, but that they lack the means to overcome the barriers to entry into the “formal” workforce.

    The problem lay with the social construction of those barriers and formalities (e.g. “career”, “employment history”, etc.), and instead focus more on increasing the number of opportunities for “I’ll do X for money.” X can be anything from shoveling shit to curing cancer.

  23. We shouldn’t buy these kids crappy cotton walmart socks but nice wool hiking socks that will last (and can be darned.)

  24. I just wanted to thank Cory and the BoingBoing community for the support you guys are showing.

    Danielle (D.T.) and I had talked about getting a website put together for OxenFree but, in addition to helping them, she’s a med student in the midst of a surgery rotation. She said she wouldn’t have time to learn about websites until January and well, winter is coming on. Hence, using my site as the landing pad for the request. I’ve passed two offers on to her from BoingBoingers who’ve volunteered to help build a site.

    You guys totally rock. Thank you.

    (And yes, they very happily accept used, mis-matched socks.)

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