By: Audrey Burri, Miss Tar Heel State Teen America & Founder of Pair Necessities, Inc
We’ve all heard stories about people who have lucky socks. It’s the one pair that they always wear while playing sports or taking a test. Why? Because the socks have special powers to ensure the wearer gets the outcome they want—winning the game or acing a test. Some even carry this belief to its extreme by wearing dirty, smelly socks, believing that “not washing them” is what keeps them lucky. Even crazier, some people feel the same about having lucky underwear...but, let’s not go there!
Hearing about these superstitions usually leaves you shaking your head or laughing about these (kinda gross) peculiarities.
But, what if that were you, and you wore that same pair of socks or underwear all the time, not for good luck, but because it was the only pair you actually owned? The potential of losing a game or failing a test pales in comparison to this demoralizing reality that many homeless and low-income adults and children live with on a daily basis.
Socks and underwear are something that we all take for granted until we stop a minute to imagine what it might be like to own just one or two pairs of each of these basic items. Think about how many pairs of socks or underwear you own right now. Can you imagine the reality of having only one pair of socks or underwear? Can you imagine being a school child and having to wear the same pair of socks and underwear every day because your parents were having to make the tough choice between spending money on food or shelter instead of basic clothing items? The reality is that these basic necessities that most of us take for granted, are luxuries to many in our communities.
I first became aware of this issue, and how widespread the need was when I helped fulfill Christmas “wish lists” for elementary students at a local school. Along with the expected wishes for new toys and sports equipment, many of the children listed requests for socks and underwear. At first, I thought this was something that the teacher or the agency organizing the Christmas stocking drive had suggested to the children (kind of like your grandmother suggesting an orange in your stocking). But, when I asked, I found out this was no joke. These kids were choosing to list socks and underwear because they had so few pairs of their own. Sadly, these items that most of us have drawers full of, or casually leave at the soccer field, were something that they longed for in the same way most kids spend all year dreaming of new bikes or dolls. Having new socks and underwear was one of their most desired presents. Can you imagine? This was especially a shock considering that most young children would be disappointed to receive socks and underwear for Christmas - but not these kids.
The sad reality of how little some children have compared to most people stuck with me long after the holidays passed. Not too much later, I began work on my Girl Scout Gold Award project, which challenges scouts to find solutions to real issues people are facing. I remembered those Christmas wish lists and, as part of my project, began investigating the extent of the problem. After months of research, rather than learning that the kids who made those lists were a unique group, I found that they were just one segment of a much larger population for which these basic items are actually luxuries. In speaking to agencies in my community, I learned that socks and underwear are the number one items requested at homeless shelters, but they are the least donated. Because these are items that must be new, socks and underwear don’t usually make it into the donation bins when people are clearing out their old clothing. However, the homeless critically need these items not only for warmth in the winter but, more importantly, to aid in good hygiene and maintain health.
In addition to those experiencing homelessness, I learned that there were real needs for these items among veterans, the mentally ill, victims of crime (or other hospitalized people), victims of trafficking, and a very large and diverse population of children, families and/or individuals characterized as “working poor.” In fact, places like schools and emergency rooms, have special closets or storage bins where they keep socks and underwear to hand out to those in need. And, guess what? There are never enough donations to keep everyone’s stock high and it's something these places always need. I knew that I had found a real problem that I needed to take action to change!
As a lifelong Girl Scout, I know that even one person can make a monumental difference in the world if they choose to help. The same philosophy applied to socks and underwear—one pair can change everything. Out of this idea, my nonprofit, Pair Necessities, was created. My group works to provide socks and underwear to those in need. In the first 6 months, Pair Necessities collected more than 2000 pairs of socks and underwear for homeless men, women, and children, other children in need, Emergency Room patients, families affected by human trafficking, and many more. Since Pair Necessities was formed, it has expanded to become a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. Pair Necessities continues to grow in its original community, with the goal of expanding to fulfill needs of the country by providing these basic necessities to all. One person can make an impact even with something as small as a pair of socks or underwear. Just one pair can make all the difference in the lives of so many.