Sam Baio, founder of West 49, understands socks.
As a retailer who has sold apparel, footwear, and accessories related to an active lifestyle, he knows what kind of socks will keep feet warm and dry. Warm feet help keep the rest of the body warm, even cold winter days and nights, he says.
He is a man who has always believed in helping those less fortunate, and since selling the chain of stores that had grown to about 140 across Canada, he has become increasingly concerned about the homeless and those in need, especially during cold Canadian winters. And decided to do something to help them. That led to the launch of Socks for Change, and this is the second winter he has purchased and distributed military-grade socks, along with neck-warmers and tuques, to many programs such as Out of the Cold, and other organizations that help the needy and homeless. Paramedics and Niagara Regional Police carry the warm winter wear with them in their vehicles, to be distributed when they come across people in need, says Baio.
“There are 72 organizations, all major social networks, that we’ve donated to.”
Plus every school in Niagara, Catholic and public boards, elementary and high school, has received warm socks, he says.
He has distributed 36,000 pairs of socks, and about 60,000 neck warmers, scarves and other winter accessories — more than last year, but still not enough.
This winter, he has had Avondale stores across the Niagara Region onboard, raising money to offset costs, he says — while he originally paid for the socks he distributed, the need is much greater than he realized, and he wants the program he created to become sustainable for the 80,000 people who need help in Niagara.
At this point, about 50 per cent of it is funded, and the rest is out of his pocket.
A donation of $2 pays for a pair of socks, and that’s what Avondale stores have asked for.
And have delivered, although one store, Baio says, has been outstanding in its collection. In Virgil, Kathy Brown “has become a model for every store manager.”
She embraced the fundraiser, had the sign front and centre, and told Baio’s story to everyone who gave her the chance.
By last week, she had collected enough to pay for more than 600 pairs of socks.
Speaking of Brown’s efforts and how much she has helped his campaign, Baio says, “she’s the difference between a ’68 Volvo and a Ferrari.”
In recognition of her support, he dropped off boxes containing 200 pairs of socks and neckwarmers last week, to be delivered to the charity of Brown’s choice.
After careful consideration, and a discussion with Jane Andres, supporter of migrant farm workers, she decided that was where she wanted the warm clothing to go. As they arrive in Niagara at this time of year to work outside, she says, “they still need winter clothing.”
To learn more or make an online donation, visit socksforchange.ca.