Aly Schmidt was a junior at Kettle Moraine High School in 2008 when a sociology class changed her holidays forever.
'In my sociology class with Mrs. Pamela Martin we were given a final project of doing something to make the world a better place,' Schmidt said. 'While many students volunteered at food pantries, homeless shelters and animal rescue groups I wanted to do something different.'
Schmidt's older sister had done a sock drive and she decided to follow in those footsteps with her own twist.
'I found that socks are one of the items needed most at shelters and resource centers, yet they are not often donated,' Schmidt said. 'With that information I decided to do a winter clothing drive with an emphasis on socks.'
Spread the Warmth
That's when Schmidt started the Spread the Warmth Sock Drive. The first year collected more than 350 items.
'(It) was certainly helpful but I thought I could do better,' Schmidt said.
She teamed up with the Hope Center of Waukesha to accept the donations and with 'a little more careful planning' raised more than 1,500 items in each of the next three years. By her fifth year of the campaign she reached 3,000 items.
'This year I am again hoping to collect 3,000 items, a goal I think is possible with a generous sponsorship by the West Waukesha County Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans as well as amazing support by local organizations,' Schmidt said. 'My overall goal for this drive is to continue to grow, both in collection numbers and in the number of businesses, churches and organizations that get involved.'
Over time Schmidt has gotten more than a dozen locations to offer collection sites.
'The more the drive grows, the more lives we are touching and there are so many people in need during our freezing Wisconsin winters,' Schmidt said.
Expanding to Iowa
Schmidt, now a senior at Drake University in Des Moines has expanded the drive to her home-away-from-home community as well.
'My freshman year I let my friends know about the drive and was able to get a few donations,' Schmidt said. 'The last two years I got a couple hundred donations that went to Central Iowa Shelter and Services in Des Moines.'
This year Schmidt is excited to have gotten even more involved getting the local alumnae chapter of her sorority involved in the drive, a percentage of daily profits from a local yogurt stand and sponsorship from the Two Rivers Chapter of Thrivent Financial for Lutherans.
Schmidt said that running the campaign in Iowa was a challenge as she got to know the area better, but running the Wisconsin campaign while largely in another state also presented a unique challenge.
'Each year I plan a little better and get more ideas, some of which I have to put on hold until the following year,' Schmidt said. 'While it is hard to not be able to have many in-person conversations with people about the drive, connecting with people has gotten easier because of maintained relationships, reaching out to more organizations and planning sooner.'
Schmidt said that like any college senior her schedule is busy and fills quickly with internships, jobs and a social life.
'Adding all of the extra emails and spreadsheets and whatnot just means I have to stay really organized and committed to its success. I really enjoy doing this drive and so many people love getting involved with it, so it isn't hard to stay dedicated; the end result makes it worth it,' Schmidt said.
The Hope Center
The Hope Center of Waukesha hosts a series of programs focused on the prevention of homelessness that started in 1987 as a small group of pastors from Waukesha. The nonprofit has grown into a mission supported by more than 125 congregations, businesses and individuals in the community and assists families in need with financial assistance, food, clothing and furniture.
Executive Director Ralph Zick said The Hope Center has more than 6,000 people registered for their services and so far this year have had more than 5,500 come through the clothing center to receive items at no cost.
'Everything we do is free; we don't charge a penny for anything,' Zick said.
Many individuals, businesses and civic groups run drives for the organization throughout the year but the one thing they always need is socks and underwear.
'We run through several thousand a month. We never have enough; its one thing we always need,' Zick said.
Continuing the drive
As for Schmidt's drive, this is her sixth year in Wisconsin and her third year in Iowa so what will it be next year?
'The continuation of this drive will certainly be influenced by where I end up after graduation,' Schmidt said, 'but I would love to continue the drive, and I think the past few years have been enough of a learning experience to allow me to do so regardless of where I am.'
Donations of new socks for men, women and children as well as new or gently used hats, gloves, scarves, winter coats or sweatshirts are accepted at the following locations. Visit stwsockdrive.weebly.com for more information.
All Saints Lutheran Church
Black Canyon Coffee
Kettle Moraine District Office
Kolman Family Chiropractic
Cornerstone Presbyterian Church
Delafield Public Library
First Weber Realtors|'K Kids' through Cushing Elementary
First United Methodist Church
St. Mary Catholic Church
Atonement Lutheran Church
Christ Lutheran Church
Church of the Resurrection
Our Savior's Evangelical Lutheran Church
ELCA Greater Milwaukee Synod Office