ToastyToes campaign collects socks for homeless
KITCHENER — New warm socks are welcome and essential for people who are homeless or at risk.
Sharon Gilroy-Dreher is on a mission to ensure there’s a pair for everyone in Waterloo Region who needs them.
Her initiative ToastyToes started off small in 2013 among friends and family. Now it’s a regionwide campaign every fall backed by schools, companies and organizations.
Last year, Gilroy-Dreher collected 32,400 pairs, which piled up in her family’s Kitchener home.
“We were buried in socks,” she joked. “At any given time, we had 20,000 pairs.”
In five years, 46,282 pairs of socks have been donated to those in need, thanks to ToastyToes.
“Last year, it exploded,” she said. “I just think it’s wonderful that people are so supportive in Waterloo Region.”
There’s no set goal for this year’s campaign, running until Nov. 10.
“Every single pair makes a difference to one person,” Gilroy-Dreher explained.
She started ToastyToes in honour of her mother Josephine Gilroy after seeing a call for socks for the Out of the Cold program.
It seemed the perfect fit. Her mother frequently gave socks as gifts, saying that people always need them. Gilroy-Dreher added, “my mom always had cold feet.”
To mark what would have been her mother’s 80th birthday, Gilroy-Dreher asked for sock donations — hoping for 80 pairs and getting nearly 500.
She didn’t have a sock drive the following year, but it’s become a fall tradition for her since then with the number of donations — both in socks and cash to buy pairs — rising at an amazing pace.
Gilroy-Dreher figures people get on board with the cause because it’s something people easily understand.
“Everyone knows what it’s like to have a hole in your socks or wet socks,” she said.
Wearing disintegrating or dirty socks is not only uncomfortable, it can cause serious health issues such as blisters, sores and infections. Socks are the most-requested item at shelters, but they’re also the least donated.
Last year, 22 groups received socks from ToastyToes. This year, all the socks are going to the Cambridge Self-Help Food Bank and The Working Centre to distribute.
Gilroy-Dreher is also thankfully moving the growing operation out of her home.
The Salvation Army in Kitchener is lending its gym for two days at the end of the campaign for the main drop-off point. Community collection spots are also at local YMCA and Libro Credit Union branches.
Others are collecting socks as well, often as a friendly competition among colleagues or neighbours.
Cheryl de Koning’s daughter sparked a challenge in her neighbourhood of Beechwood Bridlegate. At Claire’s 11th birthday party in August, she asked for socks instead of presents.
“She was kind of surprised that she collected 108 pairs just from her friends,” said de Koning, who is on the social committee of the homeowners’ association.
Now they’ve challenged neighbours to match that number by dropping off socks in the basket on the family’s front porch, and nearby Keatsway Public School is also joining in.
Kitchener’s Alison Vasey, who has donated socks to ToastyToes for a couple of years, charged her family a “sock admission” to Thanksgiving dinner on Sunday and collected 34 pairs.
“I thought this year I would extend the challenge to family,” Vasey said. “It was great to add a twist to help other people feel thankful.”
Next year she plans to expand it to her Oktoberfest celebration. Socks are cheap and it’s a simple way for anyone to help out those who can’t afford something most people take for granted.
“It’s an easy ask for people,” Vasey said.
People can contact Gilroy-Dreher by email at ToastyToesWR@gmail.com or on Twitter at @ToastyToes_WR.
ToastyToes started off small, then grew into a regionwide campaign happening every fall.
Sharon Gilroy-Dreher, with her mother Josephine Gilroy, collects socks every fall to donate to the homeless.