Socks are the “single most-needed article of clothing in homeless shelters” — and remain the least-donated items, according to Adina Lichtman, the twenty-five year old founder of Knock, Knock Give a Sock (KKGS), the non-profit dedicated to reducing the stigma of homelessness.
Lichtman, a New Jersey native, says that while nine out of ten people have donated clothing, they have never donated a pair of socks. Some of this may stem from the fact that gently-used socks are not accepted at many organizations that distribute clothing to the homeless, though that’s not the case at KKGS, which gladly accepts both new and used socks.
It all began on a cold winter’s night when Lichtman, a sophomore at New York University gave a sandwich to a homeless man named Diego. While he was grateful for the food, Diego mentioned that what he could really use were warm socks. That got Lichtman thinking.
She headed back to her dormitory and began knocking on doors asking students to donate one pair of socks. “In thirty minutes, I’d collected forty pairs. It was an easy ask,” she recalls happily. What she didn’t anticipate was opening her dorm room door the next day to a mountain of socks left behind by students. Word had clearly gotten out.
By her senior year with the help of partners and volunteers, Lichtman had collected 50,000 pairs of socks and had college ambassadors on twenty college campuses.
Lichtman says it’s not just about the socks though. “The socks are a cute entry point for us to get people and companies involved, but our real mission is about bringing neighbors together and allowing communities to meet and share with one another,” she says.
“I noticed when it came to protests, rallies and parades, people always had an ally, someone they knew involved or affected by the cause, but no one could name one homeless person they’d ever given money to,” she continued. Lichtman wanted to change that and find a way to humanize the homeless so while at NYU she organized a “Meet Your Neighbors Dinner” between fifty classmates and fifty homeless people dining side by side. “We had students, moms with three kids, men just out of prison and people struggling and working minimum wage jobs but that night, there was no difference between us. You couldn’t tell who was homeless. We were just an ordinary group of people having dinner together,” Lichtman says dreamily.
While Lichtman first formed her 501 C3 organization in 2015, this July she’ll finally go on payroll and collect her first KKGS paycheck. “Up until now I’ve been in the struggle, hustling, taking side jobs like tutoring, teaching Hebrew School and even feeding people’s cats,” she says with a laugh.
Lichtman has made a lot of progress since first encountering Diego the homeless man who shared his need for socks. Today, KKGS has presence on 25 college campuses and has collected 750,000 socks with the help of both in-kind partners like Pair of Thieves who donate 250,000 pairs annually and corporate partners like JP Morgan, Bank of America and We Work.
“The office sock drives are a great way to get our sock in the door”, shares Lichtman. Once we do a sock drive, we’ll say now we want to do a side-by-side dinner between employees and members of the homeless community. If I went in and asked for that first, I wouldn’t get very far,” she admits.
In addition to collecting socks for distribution and hosting side by side dinners, Lichtman also makes a point of hosting sock hand-outs where she gives socks to the general public so they can personally get them into the hands of the homeless directly.
This summer, Lichtman is attending the ROI Summit in Jerusalem, alongside another 150 young Jewish activists and change makers, where the conversation around engaging millennials is central. It’s the reason she’s created a ten-person Board of Directors, completely made up of millennials. “The board is made up of the most successful people in my network. Some work in finance, one is involved in a tech start-up, one is a lawyer, one is involved in venture capital. All of them challenge me and it’s these people that are going to make a huge impact on the future of business in each of their fields,” she says. Each member is required to raise or donate $1000 annually.
“People are so detached from the homeless community,” says Lichtman. “We want to change that and put a face, a name and a story to each person, one sock at a time.”
She Discovered What The Homeless Lack Most: Socks.