Hannah's Socks

Ohio / Nov. 12, 2012 / by The Team

When then four-year old Hannah Turner was volunteering with her mom at a local homeless shelter in Toledo, Ohio, during Thanksgiving 2004, she did something that would make any parent proud. Seeing a homeless man was wearing no socks under his tattered shoes, she promptly sat down and started removing her own socks to give to him. 

Hannah explains, “I thought he was going to be cold ... I was thinking that I could give him my socks.” In response to this touching moment, Hannah’s mother, Doris, suggested they go and buy some new socks for those in the shelter. 

“Then we went to the store and we got socks and then we gave them to the homeless people,” says Hannah. They bought 100 pairs of socks that day and donated them to everyone in the shelter. 

Thinking that they had done a good deed for the year, and certainly raised a very thoughtful daughter, the Turners went about life as usual. Vic Turner, Hannah’s father and Senior Vice-President of Hannah’s Socks, says that, “We just thought, ‘we did our good deed, our kids learnt a good lesson, we're happy with that’.”

That was until the next year when Hannah and her mother were once again volunteering at Thanksgiving in the Cherry Street Mission. 

This time, “We got some friends involved, some family members,” says Vic, “and we bought more socks and gave them to Cherry Street Mission and thought, 'what a very touching thing to do, what a generous, kind daughter we have'.”

The news of a small girl and her family who were giving out free socks spread quickly throughout the shelters and nonprofit organizations in Toledo, and the Turners began to receive phone calls asking if they had more socks to donate. 

Vic explains that, “It just became sort of a grassroots thing that we decided we couldn't do it financially just on our own. We couldn't just keep buying hundreds of pairs of socks at a time and giving them to various shelters in the Toledo area ... so we ended up starting a charity.” 

In 2007, Hannah’s Socks became a registered nonprofit and they started by slowly raising money to cover their administrative costs and collecting socks. 

“And it turned out the need was greater than we could possibly have imagined,” says Vic. 

Socks are an item of clothing that most of us take for granted. As Vic says, “Realistically, who thinks about socks? None of us. We just throw a pair on in the morning and we're good to go. But it turns out there's a great need for that among the poor and homeless and in our community and elsewhere, of course.”

For Joan Ellis, having new socks for her boys is something that she certainly doesn’t underestimate. “I’m raising two boys by myself and you know boys, they can go through some socks. Every morning before school, ‘Mom do you have a pair of socks?’ or ‘Do you know what I did with my socks?’ so this helps a lot because I couldn’t afford the socks I’m getting. They’re going to need socks for school. They’re going to need them; it’s cold out here.”

Hannah’s Socks collects all types of socks, says Hannah: “Little boys, and big boys, infants, babies, and men's and ladies' socks.” 

Once they have been collected and donated – a process that is helped by a large and loyal team of volunteers – Hannah explains that, “We sort those and we count how much we have and then we put them in boxes. And people send us boxes of socks, then we have to sort those. Then we have to make sure how much we have so we have enough.”

The Hannah’s Socks office has a room full of collection boxes and another complete with boxes overflowing with socks, along with socks hanging decoratively from the walls. They moved into this office a year ago, something which Vic says means, “we don't have to have socks pile up in our living room anymore.”

Unsurprisingly, Hannah’s age and the simplicity of her idea has brought her attention and Hannah’s socks now receives donations from across the country and the world. They also hear from people who have started donating socks to shelters in their own neighborhood. 

“New Jersey, Texas, Arizona, California, Florida, it doesn't matter where it is, people from other states have been inspired to collect socks and give them to homeless shelters and the poor people in their communities. And that's really something that we have tried to focus on - we have wanted to encourage other people to act.” 

Hannah’s story has even been used as an example to inspire children in other states and show them how they can help their community. Vic explains that, “We get letters periodically from school districts. I remember a group in New Jersey that literally took Hannah's story and taught a session about compassion and the kids there wrote us letters and it was just amazing.”

The Turners wanted to instill in their children the importance of contributing to their community and helping others, but Hannah’s kindness and the momentum that came from that one gesture, have exceed even their own hopes for their children.  

Vic says that it’s “not really what you're planning for your 4 year-old daughter to notice a homeless man with no socks but out of that has grown something that has really touched a lot of lives and has been a real blessing to us, as well.”  

Hannah’s Socks has since donated an extraordinary number of socks. Hannah explains that they set themselves goals for the number of socks to collect. “One was make it up to 1000 socks which we made it over and one was make it to 10,000 and we made it over.”

Having well exceeded a collection of 10,000 socks, this year alone, they have collected over 76,000 pairs of socks. 

“Last year we gave away over 211,000 pairs so it just has … the need is obvious and it's great in this area and it's been something that has allowed us to meet at least part of it,” says Vic.

Hannah’s personal favorite is a pair of fuzzy socks but she loves that socks come in all shapes, sizes, and colors. “I think I'm doing something that's important,” she says. Her big hope is that, “it keeps on going” all in order to make sure “that they have stuff to keep them warm so they don't get cold.” 

One of Vic’s mottos is that “no one can do everything but everyone can do something” and with Hannah’s Socks, the Turner family certainly are doing something. 

“Giving a bag of socks doesn't cost a lot of money but it can mean a whole lot to somebody who maybe has to walk everywhere they go, can't afford a taxi, maybe can afford a bus fair, maybe not, but they have to walk a lot and they need that access to a job and a comfortable pair of socks on their feet really does make a difference.”

“It's easy to be judgmental, it's not as easy to step forward and say, 'let me try to do something, even something maybe that doesn't seem like a big thing, but something to help somebody.’” 

The simplicity of Hannah’s initial reaction in 2004 – of giving the homeless man her own socks – would probably not occur to most of us but thanks to Hannah, people across Toledo, Ohio, and beyond are doing their best to help those in need of socks.

For the Turners, this has taught them more than how to run a nonprofit. “It's just one of those things that makes it easy to be grateful for the things that I have,” says Vic, “a great wife, loving children, good friends. There's a lot of things that is makes it easy to be grateful for.”

To learn more about Hannah's Socks and how to donate socks, please visit their website. You can also follow Hannah's Socks on Facebook and Twitter.