An observation by Tom Costello, Jr.
Chief Sock Person & Founder
The Joy of Sox
Earl did not talk about politics, or tragedies. He wanted to talk about Villanova basketball. He wanted to talk about turning his life around, not getting high. And he wanted to talk about socks. I listened.
On a cold March Sunday evening in the basement of Arch Street Methodist Church, near City Hall in Philadelphia I listened to Earl. Earl is a homeless man, maybe 40 or so, hard to tell. He seemed happy. He had just finished dinner at the Grace Café, a hot meal program run by the church.
He was bundled up in a hand-me-down North Face jacket, a non-descript knit hat and sneakers. I was there, with two college students, handing out much needed new socks to those coming out of the Café. When Earl saw what we were doing he came up to me, smiled and pulled up his jeans to show me his bare ankles. He was not wearing socks. “I haven’t had socks in weeks. Bless you so much for what you do.”
A Nor’easter had hit Philly two days before. It had been cold, snowy and very windy. And yet, smiling Earl was living on the streets without socks. I can’t imagine how painful that must be to walk around with cold wet feet.
But I don’t think that’s an unusual experience for the homeless. Most non-homeless people donate their old clothes to charity, but throw away their old socks because they are worn or have holes in them. So, at clothing distribution places the “Earls” of this world may get shirts, sweaters or even North Face jackets, but rarely new socks.
When he heard that one of our student volunteers was from Villanova he smiled even more. “Do you know Tony Chennault?” he asked me. “Don’t know him personally,” I said, “but I think he was a decent point guard.”
Earl went on to talk about his friend Tony, said he knew him back in the day. He said he was a great player, but more importantly a great person. Earl then talked more about turning his life around, and as he said that he literally turned around in a circle. We chatted for a few more minutes about Tony. I listened. He turned around a few more times. Still smiling.
I could tell he was ready to move on when he leaned into me and quietly asked if he could have another pairs of socks. “These are wonderful,” he said. I smiled and gave him a bunch. He hugged me, said God bless you, and walked up the stairs out into the cold Philly night.
On my way home, in my warm car, wearing warm socks, I turned off the radio. No need to hear about the latest disturbing news events from Washington. Instead, I reflected on the Earls of the world and wanted to do more.
In reading about Peace and Justice issues I realize the movement aims to resolve injustice and conflict, and advocate for a just and peaceful world. I’m convinced that ending homelessness is a major part of the movement. But I’m also convinced that although we cannot get the Earls and others experiencing homelessness off the streets, at least we can help make their days a little bit more comfortable.
At least for a couple of weeks Earl will have warmer toes. And that makes me smile. Peace and justice…with socks.
Tom Costello, Jr. is the Chief Sock Person & Founder of The Joy of Sox®. The Joy of Sox® is a Philadelphia-based 501(c )(3) nonprofit with the mission of giving joy to the homeless by giving them new socks. Their vision is to be the best sock charity in the United States and to give six pairs of new socks to every homeless person in the America six times every year. Founded in 2010 they have given over 250, 430 pairs of new socks – over a quarter of a million pairs! – to the homeless in 31 states and five countries. For more information please visit www.TheJoyOfSox.org.