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Frank Gray

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Socks spruce seniors’ feet – spirits, too

Twelve years ago Jamie Coyne, a professional singer by trade, was putting on a musical program at a senior community in Columbus, Ohio, when his wife noticed a woman who seemed a little down.

Coyne’s wife asked the woman what was wrong, and she said her feet were freezing. She wished she had some warm socks to wear.

So Coyne’s wife went to a shop across the street and bought her some socks. But then they realized that didn’t look good, so they bought socks for everyone.

Twelve years later that little gesture has grown into a nationwide project.

No, the Coynes don’t buy socks for everyone in nursing homes. Instead they formed an organization called Socks for Seniors.

It’s simple. They look for volunteers anywhere they can find them who are willing to put up a box somewhere and ask people to donate a pair of socks for a senior somewhere, usually in a nursing home, for Christmas.

So far this year, about 150 people have signed on with his organization, offering to collect and distribute socks. That makes volunteers in about 400 communities around the country.

I got an email from Coyne a while back. They collect socks at Bear Creek Farms on the Adams-Jay County line, where Coyne is in charge of entertainment. Someone also collects socks in Indianapolis. But that’s about it in Indiana. Coyne was hoping to rustle up some volunteers in this area.

After our conversation Coyne sent me a message saying that Richards Restaurants in Fort Wayne will be collecting socks, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t room for other volunteers wishing to pitch in as well.

When you think about it, it’s a delightfully simple concept. It doesn’t take a big organization or a board of directors or a president, a lawyer and a detailed business plan. All it takes is one person or a service club or church or school willing to find a box, decorate it, attach a sign, find a place to put the box and take the socks to an appropriate place once they’re collected. In all, it takes only a few hours of work, if that.

“We neither take nor make any money,” Coyne said.

Coyne’s role is to communicate with volunteers by email, giving them tips and passing on ideas that have worked for other volunteers. He sends people downloadable signs they can print out and then leaves everything else up to the volunteer.

Keep in mind, though, we aren’t taking about ordinary socks. No tube socks. No plain, white athletic socks. We’re talking classy socks, the thick, warm, fuzzy kind, the more colorful the better, the kind of socks we all love to wear on winter mornings to tromp around the house.

On his organization’s website, socksforseniors.com, Coyne quoted one woman in a nursing home who jumped at the chance to get a colorful pair of socks with individual toes. People in nursing homes aren’t dead, just old, and they like flashy things too, the woman said.

Finding a place to put a box might be problematic. This time of year stores are full of displays looking for donations for everything from Toys for Tots to food banks to the Salvation Army and so on.

But volunteers tend to be energetic types. They find a way.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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