During Advent, two Indianapolis-area parishes — All Saints and Holy Family, Fishers — worked together to collect 20,700 pairs of socks for people experiencing homelessness. The socks were gathered and blessed in the sanctuary of All Saints and transported to Wheeler Mission, which will distribute them to shelters throughout the city.
“All Saints, along with Holy Family simply astonished me by literally more than doubling our initial goal for this year, and also, surpassing the sock drive totals of all the past years together,” says All Saints parishioner Jim Tomlinson, who spearheaded the effort. “Together we cared … we cared for the person we didn’t even know, we cared for our neighbors.”
“I’m so thankful to Holy Family — to Deacon Cathy Scott and their rector, Bruce Gray, and the whole parish — for all the work they did and for being willing to partner with us,” says the Rev. Suzanne Wille, rector of All Saints. “They trusted us to do this with them.
This is the fourth year of sock gathering for All Saints, where it has become a tradition. “Four years ago, I heard an interview on NPR about homeless people and the lack of socks — they are the most requested and least given item,” says Tomlinson. “And it’s an item that’s important year-round — it’s not just a January-to-March issue.” Tomlinson asked Wille about the possibility of starting an All Saints sock collection. “It seemed like a great thing to do at Christmas, and a doable project for a small church,” Wille says. “If you’re on the street, you can’t wash your clothes, and socks get just worn through so quickly.”
Wille also noted the project was a particularly good fit for All Saints, which has a history of working with people experiencing homelessness. “In the 1980s during the homelessness crisis, we had people sleeping in our pews for a year,” she says. “That required lots of volunteers from all over the diocese, staying the night and serving people breakfast, and doing all kinds of work. Eventually, a homeless shelter was started next door to us. So, this collection felt like a natural connection.”
By Advent 2018, Tomlinson was ready to “go big.” He set a goal of collecting as many socks that year as they had in the prior three years combined – 10,000 pairs. To do this, he knew they would need help. “We invited Holy Family because the year prior, Deacon Cathy Scott saw a post on my Facebook page talking about the All Saints sock drive and she was like, ‘Jim, that would be wonderful for our youth group to do.’ Thus, a partnership got together,” Tomlinson says.Together, the parishes more than doubled the initial goal of 10,000, collecting nearly 21,000 pairs of socks. “We had those in the parish who don’t have much, but they gave an extra pair of socks,” says Tomlinson. “And we had the person who donated two cases (240 pairs) of socks. And he told his sister, who told her friend – and so it started to network.” Since the second year of collecting, Tomlinson has offered the option of donating a case of socks for $55. “The price of a case has gone up over the years,” he says. “But I pay for the difference and for shipping to get them here.”
It took ten vehicles to transport all of this year’s socks to Wheeler Mission. In a letter thanking the parishes for their efforts, Wheeler Chief Development Officer Steve Kerr wrote, “although I can’t quantify it, I would bet the ranch that this is the single largest sock donation in the 125-year history of Wheeler Mission.”
Wille encourages other parishes, particularly small parishes, looking to engage in projects like this to “start small,” to look for community partners and to remain focused. “I think having utter clarity about the thing you’re going to do is important,” Wille says. “Some people have asked, ‘what about underwear?’ And we’ve said ‘no.’ It remains focused. We have other collections throughout the year, but for us at Christmas — it’s socks. It’s nothing but socks, all the time.”
Tomlinson is already thinking about the next sock challenge. “The city of Indianapolis has approximately 40,000 homeless people,” he says. “This year alone, we’ve given a pair of socks to half of the homeless community in Indianapolis. Next year, do you think we can give a pair to each person?”
In order to nearly double this year’s collection, the two parishes will need even more help. “If a parish is interested in helping or getting involved, I encourage them to contact me via email,” Tomlinson says.