READERS PLEASE NOTE: This article was published
Buy one pair of novelty socks, get one pair free for those in need
A new initiative to help Toronto’s homeless community has turned up at Ryerson in the shape of a sock vending machine.
Stationed near the ServiceHub in the Podium Building, customers of the vending machine, installed Nov. 18, receive a free pair of socks to donate to the homeless with every pair purchased.
According to Marisa Sheff, a graduate from Ryerson’s Fashion Communications program and founder of the Sock Footage vending machine, socks are the most needed but least donated item of clothing to homeless shelters. “A lot of people think you can donate used socks, but the shelters won’t accept them,” Sheff said.
The Ryerson alumna first launched Sock Footage as a website in August.
Sheff said her five years working in the sock industry and over a decade volunteering with the homeless community led to the creation of her “pay-it-footward” innovation.
“I was able to interact with people in the homeless community and what I took away from it was that they were just craving connection and conversation,” she said. “All these people want is someone to talk to.”
With this, Sheff took the one-for-one business model a step further by adding in-person donations to the initiative’s purpose.
“No other companies are offering the opportunity for [consumers] to donate themselves; they do it on their behalf,” Sheff said. “I feel like because of that, there’s like a disconnect and I think the chance to witness first-hand the difference you’re making is really impactful.”
The Sock Footage vending machine gives customers the option to donate the free pair of socks themselves or drop it in the donation bin next to the machine, to be redistributed to shelters across the GTA by Socks 4 Souls Canada, a non-profit organization committed to providing new clean socks to the homeless.
“I really encourage in-person donations, but it’s a slow process,” Sheff said. “Not everyone’s comfortable with that, and the majority of people to date have opted to have it donated on their behalf. But as people begin to be exposed to it, they’re going to feel more comfortable doing it themselves.”
Installing the vending machine in Ryerson plays a big role in this exposure, Sheff said. “Launching into Ryerson was super important to me, not just because it’s my alma mater, but it’s also in the downtown core. There’s access to a large homeless population.”
Daniella Altobelli, a fourth-year journalism student, heard about the initiative through word of mouth. She bought a novelty pair from the vending machine and slipped the pair for the homeless into the donation box, all the while unaware of the second option.
“There wasn’t much signage that said, ‘Hey, you can bring this to someone in need,’” Altobelli said, adding that she would have tried the in-person option if she had known about it. “It looks like if you walked away with both pairs of socks that you didn’t care about the initiative, so I dropped it in the box thinking that’s how it’s supposed to be done.”
Despite the confusion and the “not-so user friendly machine,” Altobelli said she thinks the initiative shows Ryerson is forward-thinking.
“I think it’s important for a university to be acknowledging of [homelessness] and not sweep it under the rug,” she said.
Since its inception, Sock Footage has sold over 500 pairs of socks through web, pop-up and vending machine sales, with Sheff seeing the numbers increasing.
“I want to roll out into more universities, airports hospitals,” she said. “The sky’s the limit in terms of where something like this can go.”
The novelty socks are $10-$12 and the vending machine will be on display at Ryerson for one year.