Wes Wesley has, for a decade, inspired and managed Tacoma’s biggest holiday sock drive. The security chief at Hospitality Kitchen at 1323 S. Yakima Ave., Wesley knows who is spending days, and sometimes nights, out in the weather. He sees who is limping, hears who is coughing. He is among the first to know when one of the Kitchen’s regulars lands in the hospital with pneumonia, or with feet damaged by cold and damp. He knows who has died, and who has had a foot amputated for lack of a good pair of socks. Wesley has a mantra: “Socks are like gold.” They are gold for the recipient, and for the giver. Let him explain: “The people who need socks are the people who walk the streets with the backpack on. It’s desperately cold outside. You want to reach out to that person, but you don’t know what to give him, and you set your mind to wonder. It’s as simple as a pair of socks. His feet will be warm. He will be better. He will be comfortable. People like to give if it is unobtrusive and they can just do it. It’s just something to grab and give it out.” Tacomans have made that kind of giving a tradition with the sock drive. On Thanksgiving, thousands of them make up their Black Friday holiday shopping lists. They will decide whether they want to buy new socks for school children, toddlers, teens or adults served by the agencies that will accept donations.
When they hit the stores, generous shoppers run into folks they have seen so often over the years, they feel like friends. At Fred Meyer, with its legendary half-price sock door-buster, they point each other to the best deals. For children, these shoppers want warm and cute together. If you are a needy kid, Tinkerbell and Thomas add fun to warmth. For adults who are working their way back from transitional to independent housing, donors look for footwear to fit the world of work. For kids who get their socks from a school clothing bank, they look for deals on what their own children would wear. But for Wesley’s clients, donors demand the best. They look for socks made of a warm mix of wool and acrylic, a fabric that will wick moisture away from the foot. These socks cost more than those made of cotton or nylon, but they save lives. “They are in danger of death,” Wesley said of his people. “People get very sick if they can’t get their feet dry. They can develop colds, and eventually pneumonia, which is a devastating disease in this community.” Tacomans are wise that way. They know prevention works. They would rather spend money on socks than on hospital stays. That is one of the reasons agencies, including Metropolitan Development Council and Tahoma Indian Center, have washers and dryers where their guests can wash their clothing – and make their socks last. Wesley has storage space at the Hospitality Kitchen, and will share donations with nearby agencies including Tahoma Indian Center, Nativity House, Metropolitan Development Council and Michael Sterbick of Keep ‘Em Warm & Fed.
The overall drive will collect socks for Phoenix Housing Network, Project Homeless Connect and Communities in Schools. We have listed the donation sites in the box next to this story, and they will be on our website at www.tacomaweekly.com through December. But we are always thinking up ways to make doing good convenient. That is why we are inviting you to join the drive as a donation site for new socks. We will supply the (extremely festive) “Put A Sock In It” poster. You supply the basket, tub, tote, whatever, where people can give new – repeat – new socks. We will collect the socks as needed. Just call me at (253) 922-5317, ext. 23. It can work both ways. If someone needs a pair of socks and asks for them, the official policy of the drive is to say yes. Do not sweat security. Someone may need socks, but be too embarrassed to ask. More young people than you might wish fall into that category. Through the holidays, we will run stories each week featuring a sock recipient and a donor, telling why this matters to them. You will be surprised by the impact a humble pair of socks can have
Here is where to put a sock in it:
• Catholic Community Services and Hospitality Kitchen, 1323 S. Yakima Ave., Mon.-Fri., 8 a.m.-5 p.m. (CCS also welcomes hoodies, shoes, coats, toiletries and washed towels and blankets.)
• Oakland High School, 3319 S. Adams St., Tacoma,. Mon.-Fri., 7:30 a.m.-3 p.m. Call (253) 571-5136. (Oakland also welcomes new socks, toiletries, new or gently used clothing and shoes.)
• All City of Tacoma Fire Stations. Thank you, firefighters.
• Tacoma Weekly office at 2588 Pacific Highway, nestled between Walt’s Radiator, Brakes and Mufflers and the Harley Davidson dealership.